Davis seeks delay in voting
Governor wants his name listed on recall ballot
Carla Marinucci and Harriet Chiang, Chronicle Staff Writers Monday, August 4, 2003
Arguing that October's recall election would result in chaos, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and his supporters say they will ask the California Supreme Court today to delay the vote until the March 2004 primary and also place Davis' name on the ballot.
In a petition expected to be filed with the California Supreme Court, Davis will argue that there is no way that the state -- and its cash-strapped counties -- can set up a fair election by Oct. 7. He says the tight schedule between now and then will disenfranchise millions of voters, in violation of election laws.
Davis will be joined in the lawsuit by five other Democrats -- Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo; Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles; West Covina Councilman Ben Wong; Latino business leader Jorge Corralejo and African American community leader Danny Bake- well Sr.
The suit will be filed against Democratic Secretary of State Kevin Shelley and the Los Angeles County registrar, Connie McCormack.
"This election is operating under such duress, such a compressed truncated election schedule, that it cannot be a fair election," San Leandro lawyer Robin Johansen, one of Davis' attorneys, said Sunday.
Republicans immediately dismissed the action as a maneuver aimed at thwarting the will of 1.7 million Californians who signed recall petitions.
"The governor probably would be better served spending more time talking to the voters and less time talking behind closed doors to his lawyers," said Tom Hiltachk, attorney for Rescue California, the pro-recall organization funded by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista (San Diego County), who is a candidate in the election.
Hiltachk called the effort another in a long line of lawsuits to delay the election, saying that Davis' name is on the ballot. "I don't see how his rights have been affected."
In Davis' petition, his attorneys say that the governor should be allowed to have his name on the ballot as a replacement candidate -- separate from the issue of whether he should be recalled.
The Democrats are challenging part of a state constitutional provision that provides that if an elected official is recalled, the candidate who receives a plurality of votes will be the successor. But the law also states: "The (official) may not be a candidate."
"The governor has a right to be on the ballot," said Michael Kahn of San Francisco, one of the lawyers bringing the suit on behalf of Davis.
Of the 18 states that allow recall elections, California is one of only four states that bar the targeted officer from being on the ballot.
POLLING PLACES AN ISSUE
In their suit, the Democrats also will argue that the election is illegal because it forces Los Angeles and other counties to drastically reduce the number of polling places available to voters.
The NAACP has argued that this will disenfranchise countless voters, particularly minorities and those in low-income urban areas.
"People will have to go much farther and wait longer in order to vote," Johansen said.
Counties also must rely on punch-card machines, which created chaos in Florida during the 2000 presidential race.
County elections officials have said that they have little choice, given the speed with which they must print 15 million sample ballots, set up 25,000 polling places and hire 100,000 workers statewide.
At the same time, 45 counties are preparing for local elections on Nov. 4.
"The California Supreme Court has an opportunity to avert the train wreck we saw in Florida," said Stanford Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan, who is part of Davis' legal team bringing the lawsuit.
Richard Hasen, who teaches election law at Loyola Law School, says he doesn't think Davis has a strong argument in trying to get his name on the ballot.
Under the current law, Davis supporters note that even if 49 percent of the voters oppose the recall, the next governor could be elected with as little as 20 percent of the vote. In fact, if voters choose to recall Davis, the next governor could be elected with a mere sliver of the overall vote.
Nonetheless, Hasen said, "I don't think that argument is going to fly."
Davis is expected to argue that the recall election violates equal protection rights. But Hasen says that argument assumes the recall of Davis and the race to succeed him are asking the same question. "They're not," Hasen said.
On Oct. 7, voters will have two separate issues to decide regarding the recall. The first question asks whether voters support or oppose the recall. The second question asks voters to pick a candidate other than Davis.
So far, nearly 300 Californians have taken out papers in preparation to be a replacement candidate.
Prominent Republican names mentioned as possible candidates include Issa, who has already declared; businessman Bill Simon, who lost to Davis in the 2002 gubernatorial race; and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who is said to be assembling his campaign team with the help of his former deputy mayor, Noelia Rodriguez, now the spokeswoman for first lady Laura Bush.
GOP actor Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to announce his decision Wednesday on the "Tonight" show with Jay Leno on whether he will join the race.
On the Democratic side, Hustler publisher Larry Flynt is expected to hold a press conference today to outline his candidacy.
ANOTHER FEINSTEIN SUPPORTER
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, meanwhile, became the fourth member of the California Democratic congressional delegation to suggest that U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein should enter the race.
"We have to be careful not to get divided and allow them to take California through this fluke recall election," Waters said. "If Dianne Feinstein is talked into getting onto the ballot, I hope Gray Davis would step down."
Waters joins Reps. Brad Sherman, Cal Dooley and Loretta Sanchez in urging Feinstein to enter the race, and Sanchez has gone even further, strongly suggesting she will run if Feinstein does not.
There are 64 days to go before the election, and just six days before the end of the filing period. Potential candidates have until 5 p.m. Saturday to file for office. So far, 296 people have taken out nominating papers, county registrars reported, although not all may complete the process, which requires them to come up with a $3,500 filing fee and signatures of 65 people in their party, or 10,000 signatures.
"This is becoming a circus only P.T. Barnum could be proud of," Davis deputy communications director Gabriel Sanchez told The Chronicle on Sunday. "'We only have a week left to find how many clowns are left in the car."
E-mail the writers at [email protected]
and [email protected]