- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Teams of lawyers suing county elections officials, accusations of fraud, a partisan secretary of state under fire, an election in the balance.

No, it isn’t Florida in November 2000. It’s California right now.

Supporters of California Gov. Gray Davis took their case to the courts yesterday, opposing an effort to push an election to recall the unpopular Democratic governor.

Those who back the recall say the move by Davis supporters is designed to delay the recall vote until next spring. Recall backers have also filed suit hoping to speed up the recall, which even Mr. Davis’ allies now see as inevitable.

The California legal feud over the recall may find the U.S. Supreme Court determining Mr. Davis’ political future — another reminder of the 2000 presidential election dispute.

“Florida may have been new to the rest of the country, but [Californians are] veterans of litigation in contested elections,” said Bruce Cain, a political science professor at the University of California at Berkeley. “We have a whole industry of people that contest ballots.”

Recall organizers earlier this week submitted to county election boards nearly twice the 897,158 signatures needed to force a recall.

Now the question seems to be when, not if, a recall election will occur to replace the state’s most unpopular governor in history. And that question may be determined by the high-priced, high-powered legal teams that the campaigns have enlisted.

But even veteran California lawyers don’t know what to expect in this battle. University of Southern California law professor Elizabeth Garrett said case law for recall elections is minimal.

“We are in uncharted territory here,” she said. “This is really a new day for California.”

Republican organizers want an election this fall, when they expect turnout to favor recalling Mr. Davis. To force a fall election, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley must have certified and counted all the signatures by Sept. 4. Republicans have sued several counties and Mr. Shelley, saying they are trying to delay the election in violation of state law. Mr. Shelley, a Democrat, has said he stands by his decisions.

Mr. Davis’ supporters sued Mr. Shelley and several different counties yesterday. The suit charges that some signature gatherers paid by the Rescue California recall group were not legal petition circulators because they came from out of state or are felons.

State law requires that anyone who circulates a recall or initiative petition be an eligible voter, for which residency is a requirement. State law bans felons from voting.

“We are attacking the unsavory and illegal process by which the signatures were gathered,” said Nick Velasquez of Taxpayers Against the Governor’s Recall, which is supporting the lawsuit filed by voters in three counties.

But Chris Wysocki of Rescue California said the lawsuit is frivolous and “clearly an attempt to use the judiciary to thwart the will of 1.6 million people.” He said the group even went “the extra mile” to have signature gatherers produce records proving they were registered to vote.

Mr. Wysocki would not rule out an appeal to a higher court if the Superior Court rules against the recall.

Miss Garrett said the case filed yesterday may be able to push the recall past the September deadline for a fall election. The case may also make its way to the Supreme Court, she said.

The high court may be asked to determine whether the state has a sufficient interest in requiring petition circulators to be residents that it warrants an infringement on their right to free political speech. The court has taken up such issues in the past, striking down laws precluding circulators from being paid and requiring them to be registered voters.

“I don’t think the lawsuit is likely to succeed except that it may delay the election, which may be the objective,” Miss Garrett said.

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