Tuesday, August 19, 2003

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The Justice Department yesterday signed off on the Oct. 7 election to recall Gov. Gray Davis in response to warnings from a federal judge, who questioned whether the voting rights of minorities would be upheld.

The election, just 50 days away, is forcing some counties to make a number of money-saving changes that until yesterday lacked federal approval. The legal dispute focused on Monterey County, which plans to cut costs by reducing its usual 190 polling places to 86 and hiring fewer Spanish-speaking poll workers.

Any changes in the voting process must be cleared by the Justice Department in Monterey and three other California counties, which have a history of low voter participation, particularly among minorities.

“This is not a problem,” Jorge Martinez, a Justice Department spokesman, said late last night.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel in San Jose ordered Monterey County not to send absentee ballots overseas as he considers postponing the election.

It was not immediately clear how the Justice Department decision yesterday would affect Judge Fogel’s order.

Also yesterday, a federal judge in Los Angeles said he would rule by midweek on a separate effort by the American Civil Liberties Union to postpone the recall election because six counties will use old punch-card voting machines if the recall is staged Oct. 7.

The suit claims the machines have error rates as high as 3 percent and seeks a delay until the next regular election in March, when touch-screen or written ballots will be in place as part of separate litigation arising from the 2000 presidential-election fight in Florida.

U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson said he hoped to rule on the case tomorrow, while acknowledging that there was no earlier case in which a federal court had intervened to stop or delay a state election.

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