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Appeals Court to Reconsider Decision to Postpone California Recall Election - 2003-09-19

A San Francisco appeals court says it will reconsider a decision to postpone an October 7 recall election against California Governor Gray Davis. Monday, a three-judge panel of the court delayed the election because of concerns over obsolete voting machines used in some California counties. An 11-member panel of the court will now review the decision. Voters are also assessing the damage to the state's economy by the roller coaster events of the recall saga.

Early in the week, the recall campaign against Governor Gray Davis was just going into high gear, as Mr. Davis campaigned with well-known Democrats like former President Clinton. Top contenders for his job were spending millions of dollars on advertising in their effort to replace him. Monday, a three-judge panel of a San Francisco appeals court brought the process to a sudden, if temporary, stop.

The judges delayed the election until six California counties can replace their obsolete punchcard balloting machines with more modern systems. If that ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stands, the election will probably take place March 2. But the full appeals court could reverse the ruling, scheduling the vote once again for October 7.

Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss, a former federal prosecutor, thinks that will happen. He was part of a panel of analysts and politicians who are trying to understand what the recall means for the state.

"And my prediction is, although it's purely speculative and every other so-called legal expert's prediction that you're going to see is likewise purely speculative, but I would not be surprised if the Ninth Circuit reverses this decision," he said.

Mr. Weiss, a Democrat, prefers a March election. Most Democrats believe a six-month campaign will give the governor a better chance to make his case, as the recall passion lessens. A March election would also coincide with California presidential primaries, when Democrats are expected to vote in large numbers.

Another critic of the recall, Democratic political consultant Darry Sragow, says removing a governor who was elected just last year marks a fundamental change in California politics.

"Are we now at the point that we will go and have an election, and if we don't like the results, overturn it in a few weeks?" he asked.

That's a trend, says Mr. Sragow and other Democrats, that leads to instability.

But Jonathan Wilcox of Rescue California, one of the groups behind the recall, says the system is working well. A fiscal crisis has left Californians with little faith in their government, and as a last resort, they are putting to use what he calls a "lemon law." California has such a law on its books for malfunctioning cars. A dealer who sells an unrepairable vehicle is forced to take it back and offer the customer a new one. He says the recall provision of California's constitution is a lemon law for politicians, and that it will send a message.

"If and when Governor Davis is recalled, it will send the message that no one is beyond the reach of the public and the people and that, ultimately, politicians work for them," he said.

Whether the recall fails or succeeds, economist Jack Kyser would like to see it over soon, so that whoever is governor can help solve California's economic problems.

"In the scheme of things, October is better because it eliminates the uncertainty," said Mr. Kyser. "We're getting calls from institutional investors. They're saying what is going on in California? And the sub-question is, are our investments safe?"

He says an early election will answer those questions sooner rather than later. But the timing of the election is out of the hands of the voters and in the hands of the courts, which must decide in the next few days when the election will happen.