- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2003

Postponing the California gubernatorial recall until March would cost the state much more than the estimated $66 million price tag for the Oct. 7 election, and local officials say they are not equipped run the recall election effectively with the state primary.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard that message in briefs filed Wednesday, and will weigh that against an argument made by the American Civil Liberties Union that 40,000 voters will be disenfranchised if outdated punch-card machines are used Oct. 7.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit said Monday that delaying the election would allow polling places with the punch-card system to install newer and theoretically more accurate voting machines. The full court is expected to decide as early as today whether to overturn the delay of the recall.

Robert M. Pepper, attorney for the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials, said the three-judge panel was wrong to rely on the expertise of a University of California at Berkeley professor rather than those who run the state’s elections.

“There was no evidence sought nor testimony invited from any of the election officials in these six counties,” Mr. Pepper said. “Evidence presented was based on self-described experts rather than election practitioners who have decades of experience working with these voting systems.”

One of those election practitioners is Conny B. McCormack, the registrar and clerk of Los Angeles County, the largest voting district in the United States. She filed a “friend of the court” brief against delaying the recall, citing $7 million her county had spent to prepare for an election on Oct. 7. Most of that money would be wasted, she said, because the county would have to start over.

“Usually, the cost of the election, only 10 to 15 percent is incurred on Election Day,” Mrs. McCormack said in testimony Tuesday to the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors. “Most people don’t realize that. Most of the costs of the election is in the preparation and upfront costs of the election.”

A delay likely would push the election to March 2, the date of the California presidential primary. Even the best voting machines in the state, Mrs. McCormack said, aren’t equipped to handle a recall ballot with 135 names on it, plus all the presidential and state office candidates from both parties.

“If the recall election were consolidated with the primary election, the number of pages required to print the contests scheduled for the primary election … plus various ballot measures would exceed the 12-page capacity of [the new] system,” Mrs. McCormack said, adding that a supplemental voting system, such as paper ballots, would have to be tacked on to handle ballot load.

In addition, the 400,000 absentee ballots sent to Los Angeles County residents and more than 1 million sent by other California counties would be invalidated. Republicans say that would disenfranchise many more than the potentially 40,000 voters that concerned the 9th Circuit panel.

“If I had already submitted by absentee ballot, am I not disenfranchised?” said Tony Bell, spokesman for Republican Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich. “Should I not be party to a new lawsuit because my rights have been violated?”

Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic Party, blamed Republicans for the problems associated with the recall.

“The Republicans ought to get the full blame for the cost and for the whole circus they created in the first place,” Mr. Torres said. “They asked for this mess and now when the chickens come home to roost, they try to blame it on the liberal justices.”

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