Nearly 500 Californians have taken out papers to run for governor if Gray Davis is recalled Oct. 7. That has the state bracing for one of the longest and most ungainly ballots in recent American history.
But as of Tuesday, only 15 people had filed the required documents with county clerks’ offices and paid the necessary fees.
So while the state’s political leaders are consumed by the decisions of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, county registrars are holding their breath until 5 p.m. Saturday, the deadline for would-be candidates to file their paperwork. It is these hundreds of lesser-knowns who will determine the size of the ballot, and perhaps the shape of the race.
Even if a fraction of the 482 people who pulled papers decide to run, the potential confusion -- and the friends and family that fringe candidates bring to the voting booth -- might make the difference in a tight recall race. Voters will be asked to decide whether Davis should remain governor, and who should replace him if he is recalled.
A Times survey of all 58 county clerks’ offices suggests that while the ballot will ultimately contain dozens of names, there will not be -- contrary to popular belief -- a gubernatorial candidate for every star you can see from the top of Mt. Whitney.
One reason is the brief window -- 17 days -- for jumping into the race, which is unique to this recall election. Another factor is procrastination; in almost every election, there is a crescendo of late entrants. For other candidates, the delay may be strategic; Schwarzenegger and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan are taking their time figuring out which one will run.
But a key reason for the hesitancy of many potential candidates may be the little-known process of getting on the ballot. In the face of that procedure, many of the interested people seem to be deciding that gubernatorial politics is a summer fling, not a romance that will last through fall.
“This is Humboldt County, and the salmon are running,” said Lindsey McWilliams, the county election manager, explaining the dilemma of Darin Price of McKinleyville -- the only person in her domain to take out papers. “Not only does he have an uphill battle to slog through to make it by Saturday, but he said he wanted to go fishing, too.”
The process of getting in has been described as simple -- get 65 signatures and pay $3,500. But in fact, neither figure is a hard and fast requirement.
Since July 24, candidates have been able to pull papers at county clerks’ offices. Those who take out nominating papers must collect 65 to 100 signatures -- all from their own county and only from members of the party to which they belong.
But most who have taken out papers have a different document, “Signatures in Lieu of Fee Petitions.” They can collect signatures anywhere in the state.
A Democratic, Republican or independent candidate must submit 10,000 signatures to avoid paying a fee. If the candidate submits more than 65 signatures but fewer than 10,000, the fee is reduced, on a sliding scale.
The formula is different if a candidate is registered with the Green, Natural Law, Libertarian, Peace and Freedom, American Independent or any other party; in those cases, the fee is waived for a number of signatures equal to 10% of the party’s registered voters -- to a maximum of 150.
Candidates must take their signatures and petitions to the county clerk’s office by Saturday, with their fees.
Those can be paid with cash, check or money order, though two counties -- Fresno and San Joaquin -- accept major credit cards.
At the clerk’s office, those filing must sign a declaration of candidacy. In most elections, county clerks say, candidates would also have had to sign a declaration of intent to run before taking out papers. But that step has been eliminated for the recall election because the schedule is so tight.
The result: County clerks have no clear sense of how many candidates will ultimately come in with papers, when, or who they might be.
They must check each signature -- not only to ensure that those who signed are registered voters of the same party as the candidate, but also to check that the signatories have not signed any other candidates’ petitions. The recall calendar requires this work to be done quickly: The secretary of state must certify candidates for the ballot by next Wednesday. So county clerks -- receiving paperwork as late as 5 p.m. Saturday -- will have only a few days to review the material and get it to the secretary of state.
To cope, Los Angeles County will run two shifts on Saturday. Many county clerks’ offices will be open all weekend, with Sunday devoted to checking signatures.
Nevada County Clerk-Recorder Lorraine Jewett-Burdick said she considered running for governor “so I wouldn’t have to administer the thing. But my staff told me there’d be a bullet in my back before I reached the door.”
She assured a reporter no one was really going to shoot her. “That’s a quip, hon,” she said.
For candidates who gather signatures in multiple counties, the secretary of state will have to compile all the signatures and may adjust the filing fee. The secretary of state also produces a statewide voter pamphlet, charging candidates a fee to have their philosophies represented in it.
Counties produce their own pamphlets; charges vary, depending on length and how many languages the statement is printed in.
The secretary of state by law must receive the paperwork from the county; the Web site counts only 234 people who have taken out papers, a count based on communications with fewer than 20 of the 58 counties.
The Times survey includes information from all but Stanislaus County, whose officials declined to answer questions or return phone calls.
Among the 15 candidates are a cigarette retailer from Napa Valley; a bounty hunter and law school president in Sacramento; four San Diego County businessmen; a Santa Monica mediator; a Marin County Republican running on a platform of ending discrimination against the unmarried; an Arcadia engineer named S. Issa who is no relation to the recall backer Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista); and Michael Jackson, a satellite project manager from Long Beach.
Of those candidates considered more serious, only state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) has turned in his paperwork.
Most of the potential candidates come from the state’s heavily populated coastal counties. Davis has been spending the week keeping big-name Democrats out of the race, but more than 160 lesser-known Democrats have taken out papers.
In 19 counties, not a soul pulled papers to run for governor.
“We’re kind of disappointed, to be honest!” said Colusa County clerk Kathy Moran, who nonetheless will keep her office open Saturday. In Sierra County, clerk-recorder Mary J. Jungi said her office may be closed but she’ll leave her home number on the door. Several other counties have just one interested person.
In Siskiyou County, one Larry Bird, an independent, has taken out papers. In Nevada County, one candidate withdrew after breaking his hip.
The offices of Contra Costa County’s registrar of voters have become a sort of shadow headquarters for the run-up to Saturday’s deadline.
Registrar Steve Weir has assembled and frequently updates a list of candidate filing status for the whole state, based on conversations with his counterparts in 38 of the 58 counties.
He said he couldn’t afford to wait for the state figures to catch up. For such a large election, he needs an idea of how many candidates there will be so he can have contingency plans and secure enough funds to run the election in his county.
This week, Weir’s worry is that California’s prospective candidates will wait until the last minute to file. That would create headaches not only for candidates but also for counties.
“I’m not assuming anything about what these people are going to do,” said Victor E. Salazar, county clerk and registrar of voters for Fresno County, who keeps in touch with Weir. “This is crazy.”
Times staff writer Peter Y. Hong contributed to this report.