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Officials Warn of Turmoil on Election Night

Times Staff Writers

As the list of candidates seeking to replace Gov. Gray Davis grew to nearly 200 names, officials warned Sunday of election night gridlock, with the outcome likely to be unclear days after the Oct. 7 vote.

Although the filing deadline passed Saturday at 5 p.m., the final number of candidates was not set on Sunday. Election officers throughout the state confirmed that 89 Californians had fulfilled all requirements and would appear on the ballot; the applications of at least 104 more were still being reviewed.

After Saturday’s furious pace, Sunday seemed quieter, with few of the best-known candidates making campaign appearances. Among the day’s developments:

* Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger released tax returns for 2000 and 2001, showing income of more than $57 million during the period.

* Another Republican candidate, state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), won the endorsement of the California Republican Assembly, a conservative group.

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* Officials in Secretary of State Kevin Shelley’s office said they were still trying to determine what the recall will cost. Last week, Shelley had estimated the price at $53 million to $66 million, a figure that may now rise in light of the large number of candidates on the ballot.

In some counties with paper-based voting systems, such as Contra Costa and Sonoma, the large number of candidates will require three or more cards, making it necessary for the ballots to be read by hand to ensure each voter did not choose more than one alternative to Davis, election officials said.

Unlike newer electronic systems, paper ballots must be marked by pen or punched out and then read by election officials or tabulated by machines ill equipped to handle dozens of candidates in a single race.

Though it is not clear how many counties will face this problem in October, 27 counties used multi-card ballots in the last statewide election. Since then, some have switched to different voting systems and others still plan to do so in the next 57 days.

Steve Weir, Contra Costa County’s registrar of voters, said results in his county would not be ready until “maybe ... about 5 p.m. Thursday [Oct. 9],” two days after the polls close.

In Orange County, where voters will use a new oversized paper ballot -- designed for absentee voting -- officials said it may take close to 40 hours to count votes.

Although the new ballot was not intended to be used at the polling place, Registrar Steve Rodermund decided it was preferable to substantial problems posed by having so many names on the punch-card voting system the county is replacing.

“The only issue with using this [new absentee] ballot is that it’s not designed to count a few hundred thousand ballots in eight hours,” Rodermund said. “So it’ll take a little bit longer, but we’ll know the numbers will be right.”

On the ballot, voters first will be asked for a straight yes or no answer on whether Davis should retain his office. They then will be asked to vote for a successor in the event Davis receives less than 50% of the vote on the first question. If Davis loses the recall, whoever gets the most votes on the second question becomes the governor of California, a state with 36 million people and a $99-billion budget.

On Sunday morning, Schwarzenegger’s campaign staff wheeled in copies of two years of the actor-turned-politician’s tax returns on a brass luggage cart at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica.

Releasing only 2000 and 2001 tax returns, aides told reporters they were welcome to spend as long as they liked looking at the documents but could not remove them from the basement conference room.

The returns showed Schwarzenegger earning $31 million in 2000 and $26.1 million in 2001, paying more than $20 million in state and federal taxes, with the bulk of his income coming from his acting roles.

Campaign spokesmen said they did not release a 2002 return because it had not been filed yet.

Rivals had called on Schwarzenegger to release 10 years of tax returns. A similar issue caused problems for multimillionaire businessman Bill Simon Jr. during his 2002 run for governor against Davis. After pressure, he eventually released a decade’s worth of tax filings.

Gov. Davis’ wife, Sharon, said at an afternoon anti-recall rally that she expects her husband’s fight against the recall to get the support of former President Clinton and his wife, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

“We look forward to having Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton in California because they have been through this Republican attack,” she said in an interview after speaking in West Los Angeles at an event organized by Women Against the Recall, a statewide coalition of women’s groups. “They have experienced it firsthand.”

Sharon Davis touted her husband’s signing of the nation’s first paid family leave bill, his raising of the minimum wage and his efforts to provide affordable day care as among his accomplishments for the state.

“I could go on and on, but it is too hot,” she told the crowd of about 70, many fanning themselves in the 90-plus-degree heat at Pan Pacific Park in Park La Brea.

The governor’s wife also criticized Schwarzenegger, obliquely in her comments to the crowd and more overtly in an interview.

She told her audience: “This election is not going to be won by someone who makes vague promises. This election is going to be about delivering big-time for California.”

In an interview, she said: “All Arnold has promised is to make sure that everyone in California has a fantastic job. OK. The devil is in the details. What are the details? What is he promising to do and how is he going to get it done? You can promise people anything. It’s whether you can deliver on those promises that is important.”

In Burbank, the California Republican Assembly, a group representing conservative voters, endorsed McClintock. None of the 110 delegates voted for Schwarzenegger.

“We do not have to moderate our views,” McClintock told the crowd. “We can do as [Ronald] Reagan taught us to do, to paint our position in bold colors. And if we are true to the people, they will rally to us.”

The East Coast-based Sunday morning talk shows were stocked full of California politicians, including McClintock, Simon, former Gov. Pete Wilson and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who bankrolled the recall effort only to withdraw his own candidacy last week.

Appearing for the Democrats were U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the most prominent Democrat on the ballot.

Several politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, took shots at Schwarzenegger for his silence so far on the major issues facing the state.

Davis also drew criticism from Republicans for what they said has been his mismanagement of the state’s finances, as well as from members of his own party for his past harsh political campaigning style.

He has been cautioned by some top Democrats not to revisit the strategy in his current fight to keep his job.

On CNN’s “Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer,” Brown said it “would be very stupid” for Davis to sling mud at Schwarzenegger.

Both Brown and Feinstein said they strongly opposed the recall and would work for its failure.

Election officials throughout the state, meanwhile, grappled with the logistics of providing and counting such long ballots.

At least one company with a contract to print ballots for the state is going to a round-the-clock operation to be ready in time for the election.

“We can get it done, but the more ballots and the more cards needed means more proofreading and printing,” said Alfie Charles, public affairs director for Sequoia Voting Systems of Exeter.

Complicating the task, Charles said, each company is required to have the ballot in the right order in the multiple languages required by law.

Inside the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder’s office Sunday, nearly 75 workers were busily verifying signatures, photocopying checks and registering new voters.

“We are really short on time to process the rest of the election paperwork,” said Michael Petrucello, assistant registrar-recorder.

The normal working hours at the office are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. But on Friday and Saturday, workers stayed from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

They were back at 7 a.m. Sunday, walking past a lawn littered with the remains of the day before: crumpled “Bill Simon for Governor” signs, torn police tape and discarded cigarette butts.

In Sonoma County, Assistant Registrar of Voters Janice Atkinson said the recall is one of four elections that must be administered between now and November in a county of about 250,000 registered voters.

Legislative bills aimed at splitting the presidential and state primary dates will complicate matters further, she said.

“The complexity of elections in California is going to break the system,” she said. “We can’t keep going at this rate, this pace and this level of complexity. The whole thing is a house of cards, and this is another card.”

The large slate also poses other problems. Estimates for the recall’s cost have grown as the number of candidates has risen. Last week, the secretary of state estimated it would cost $53 million to $66 million. On Sunday, Shelley’s office was working on a revised, higher, estimate.

Today, Shelley is required by law to conduct a drawing to determine which letter of the alphabet will top the ballot in the 1st Assembly District, in Del Norte County. The first name on that ballot will drop to the end of the list in the 2nd Assembly District and rotate through the rest of the state, 80 districts in all.

In a typical election, with far fewer than 80 candidates for a single office, every person in the running would be at the top of the list at least once.

“Normally, everyone would get a few shots at being at the top of the ballot,” said Fred Woocher, a Santa Monica attorney who specializes in election law. “But here, some people are never going to get up there.”

Woocher said the random order was instituted to avoid giving any one candidate an unfair advantage because of people’s tendency to vote for the first name on the ballot.

Now, with so many names, the random order may create a new problem, he said.

“Voters are going to be handed stacks of cards, with the names in a random order,” Woocher said.

“It’s going to be very difficult to find a name in that card. It’s not like people can say before the election, ‘Vote for me on Card 3!’ ”

*

Times staff writers Nick Anderson, Michael Cieply, Sue Fox, Erika Hayasaki, Hugo Martin and Esther Schrader contributed to this report.


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