15 August 2003
One hundred thirty-five candidates are on the final list for California's recall election, in which voters will decide whether they want to remove their governor, Gray Davis, and choose a replacement. Election officials hope to avoid the problems that marred the last presidential vote in Florida.
Candidates who qualified for the longest ballot ever in a California governor's race include the well known and the obscure, from the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger to a San Jose housewife and a sumo wrestler.
More than 100 potential candidates failed to qualify because they filed incomplete paperwork. Among those who did qualify are Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, who supports governor Davis but is running anyway; Republican Bill Simon, who ran for governor last November, and conservative state senator Tom McClintock. Former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, another Republican, is also on the ballot, as is liberal commentator Arianna Huffington, an independent.
Among the lesser-known candidates is attorney Bruce Margolin, a Democrat who has run three times for state assembly but never won.
"My leading issue, and it has been for 30 years unabated in my work as [Los Angeles] director of NORML, the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, is to see that marijuana laws end," he said.
The candidate concedes he is more liberal than most voters, but says he would like to see the marijuana issue debated.
The recall election has been called a circus and is the frequent target of humor. In fact, comedian Leo Gallagher is on the ballot.
Another candidate, former child actor Gary Coleman, admits he is not qualified to serve and says he'll vote for Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In Sacramento, Chris Wysocki of the pro-recall group Rescue California said the motley list of hopefuls doesn't bother him.
"I mean, democracy works," he said. "And everybody has a right to run. And credible candidates, if they're really interested in running for governor, they'll have to wage an aggressive campaign. A lot of these people are just getting their names on the ballot for posterity's sake."
The large number of candidates is a problem for state officials, but they insist it is one they can handle. Terry Carbaugh, a spokeswoman for the California secretary of state, says her office will coordinate one of the most complicated elections in the state's history, in a very compressed time frame of two months.
"Normally we have a minimum of 131 days to prepare for an election," she said. " For those that actually run elections, it's a day-to-day process to make sure that systems are in place so that at the end of the election day, that all the votes will be counted accurately." Some worry that won't happen. Critics predict a debacle because some California counties use the punchcard ballot system that caused problems with the 2000 vote in Florida.
The courts have ordered all California counties to switch to new systems that use touch screens or optical scan technology by March. But at least two-dozen counties were using punchcard systems, and most will not have time to make the conversion by October.
The ballot may be unwieldy even in counties that use new technology. In Sonoma, where ballots are scanned optically, officials have room for just 52 names on each card, so voters will receive a multicard ballot.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on behalf of voters in six counties, where the organization argues voters may be disenfranchised because the ballot will be confusing and the count inaccurate.
Punch cards will be used in Los Angeles, where the registrar of voters says the system has worked well in previous elections. Many ballots have been long because they included a list of issues to be decided by the voters, in addition to candidates.
Secretary of State Kevin Shelley says county and state officials will take their time to get the count right.
"This is a big test for us in California, and we will most assuredly not be perfect along the way. But in the end, regardless of the outcome of this election I believe we will have a fair and just result," he said.
If the results are close, officials could delay releasing the final count for 39 days after the October 7 election.