Recall goes to Calif. voters

Davis, challengers make last-ditch campaign push

Turnout considered key factor

Elections officials brace for confusion at polls

October 07, 2003|By Michael Finnegan | Michael Finnegan,LOS ANGELES TIMES

The tumultuous California recall race hurtles to a close today when millions of voters cast their ballots on whether to sweep Gray Davis from office and install a new governor to finish the remaining three years of his term.

Davis and leading contenders for his job raced across the state yesterday beseeching supporters to turn out for the historic election - the first statewide recall ever presented to California voters.

The Democratic governor, dashing from a Sacramento school forum to raucous labor rallies in San Francisco and Los Angeles, urged voters to give him credit for making progress on education, health care, the environment and jobs.

"I know that people are angry, and I've acknowledged making some mistakes, but we are working through these problems," Davis said.

Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose celebrity status has sparked worldwide media coverage of the race, campaigned in San Jose, Huntington Beach and San Bernardino.

"Do you want to go backward with Gray Davis or do you want to go forward with Arnold?" he told throngs of sign-waving supporters in a San Jose airplane hangar before heading to Southern California. "Those are the choices."

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante adopted a novel technique for his last day on the stump: He posed for Polaroid photographs with bystanders in Oakland and San Francisco.

Earlier, at a United Farm Workers rally in East Los Angeles, Bustamante cast himself as a protector of gains achieved under Davis for immigrants, minorities and workers.

"We have just 36 hours to get out the vote - are we going to do it?" the Democrat asked more than 100 cheering UFW volunteers at a Knights of Columbus hall.

"We need to do it for our families. We need to do it for all those workers who are not being paid the proper wage. We need to do it for all those families who are not getting health-care benefits."

The only major contender to stay put yesterday was Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock. Dispensing with the traditions of rallies, crowd-waving and child-hugging, he planted himself at a Sacramento television studio, where he gave no fewer than 17 interviews, many of them beamed nationwide by satellite.

McClintock made a final plea to conservatives who might be inclined to vote for Schwarzenegger under the assumption that he is the only Republican who can win. McClintock portrayed himself as the candidate truest to conservative values.

"I suspect a lot of people have been sitting down these last few days sorting through their thoughts," he said. "I say to them: Come on home."

Polls are open today from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Pacific time. Given the saturation news coverage of the recall campaign, election officials are bracing for a heavy turnout. More than 2.2 million of California's 15 million registered voters have already voted by absentee ballot.

Because of the unprecedented nature of the recall, state officials have not made their traditional pre-election prediction of turnout. In the governor's race last November, 51 percent of registered voters cast ballots, a record low; in the 2000 presidential election, turnout was 71 percent.

For some elections officials, the compressed nature of the recall was cause for concern.

Counties had less than three months to prepare, far less than normal. Several counties, including Los Angeles, are opening far fewer polling stations than they do in normal November elections, a situation that Democrats and civil-rights groups challenged unsuccessfully in court.

Other counties, such as Orange, are using new optical-scan voting machines for the first time.

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley and others have warned of possible complications at the polls, but hope that a voter-education program, along with the intense media coverage, will minimize troubles.

The ballot will offer voters a total of four choices. One is the yes or no vote on whether Davis should be retained as governor. If a majority supports his recall, Davis will be ousted.

The second part of the recall vote is a menu of 135 candidates running to succeed the governor in case he is recalled. Voters can pick a successor regardless of whether they choose yes or no on the Davis recall.

Also on the ballot are Proposition 53, a measure that would set aside up to 3 percent of the state's general-fund revenue for infrastructure projects, and Proposition 54, which would bar California from collecting or using most kinds of racial or ethnic data.

With turnout a crucial factor in the race, party loyalists were trying to mobilize their base voters yesterday to turn out the vote. Thousands of Democrats have received No-on-the-Recall phone messages from Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Barbra Streisand and the governor's wife, Sharon Davis.

The California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, began calling 500,000 voters yesterday, using 80 phone banks around California.

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