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California Recall Election Put on Hold by Federal Appeals Court

Aired September 15, 2003 - 13:46   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And as far as we are concerned, the final word on politics is Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst, who has been in California for about 20 years now, right, it seems like? It's been a long stint.
Bill, first of all, let's talk about, does the show go, as we were talking to Kelly Wallace, quite literally, the band struck up and the show went on there for that Gray Davis/Bill Clinton event. Is that, symbolically at least, what will happen for the foreseeable? The stops will continue, the fund-raising will continue, so on and so forth?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the fund- raising will continue. The campaign is a little (UNINTELLIGIBLE) certain guess is it will go on, because sooner or later they have to have a recall election upon. It's in the California constitution. The question is, will it be October 7th, will it be March? Some people are even saying maybe they could have it in November, when a lot of cities in California are having elections. I don't know if the punch card machines can be replaced that quickly.

O'BRIEN: Now let's be clear, you're talking November 2003, correct?

SCHNEIDER: This November. There's no statewide election in California, but there are city elections, for instance, in San Francisco. So some people are saying maybe they can replace the punch card machines by then, although I'm not sure they can do that.

But the campaign will go on, because you have a lot of national Democrats coming into California this week. Bill Clinton is here, Jesse Jackson, Senator Bob Graham of Florida, John Kerry of Massachusetts, both presidential candidates. They're going to be campaigning with Gray Davis this week, and my guess is they will show up, because sooner or later, whether it's October or March, Gray Davis is going to have to face a recall vote.

O'BRIEN: All right, but with all of this kind of up in the air and some uncertainty about the dates, does that make it difficult for the campaigns to get people to write checks and eat that rubber chicken?

SCHNEIDER: Well, you bet. The question is, you know, when is this going to happen? How much money is it going to take? Yes, it's going to be a little bit tougher, and there's a lot uncertainty hanging this. That's why the courts may act quickly. The difficulty for the U.S.Supreme Court is if they apply the same standard to this election as they applied with Bush v. Gore, what the appeals court said is you have to at least postpone this election until a time when they can replace those punch card machines. What it really boils down to is about 44 percent of California voters, including those in counties with heavy concentrations of minorities, like Los Angeles, they vote with punch cards. Punch card machines have something like a 2 percent error rate.

In other countries, they have touch-screen voting, or they have other kinds of voting procedures which have a much lower error rates, like 0.5 percent.

So what the appeals court said is, if different counties use different voting rates, with different error rates, you don't have equal protection. That is what the Supreme Court said, disallowed the Florida recount. So if they stick to that standard, they would say the election has to be postponed, and that would make Democrats this time very happy. The Democrats were very unhappy with their Florida decision.

O'BRIEN: So by sticking to that same precedent -- this is the other edge of the sword, I guess, if you will. As a practical matter, it's a big state. We're talking about a tremendous number of precincts. To replace all these punch card devices, do you have any idea how long that would take, and how much money, for that matter?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it does cost a lot of money. The federal government will help, because the federal government has an act. I think it's HVA (ph), Help the Votes Act, which gives the state some money to do this, but the secretary of state, whom I did speak to last week, Kevin Shelly (ph), a Democrat, said that the system was being replaced, and he expected it to be in place and ready in time for the March primary, but not in time for the October 7th election, as it was originally scheduled.

O'BRIEN: And just one final thought here. You say being replaced. I mean, California, when they witnessed what happened in 2000 in Florida didn't get right on the get rid of the punch card bandwagon?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the argument in California is in a number of other places is, hey, we didn't have a problem here, and somebody has got to help pay for this if we're going to modernize this system. Eventually, the federal government did come up with money to replace the system, and in California, they decided, well, we better get with the program.

But one of the arguments the court could use is, well, many states have used punch cards for a long time, it didn't create problems, it was a on problem in Florida, because the election was virtually a perfect tie. That's a very unlikely outcome.

But one of the complicating factors in California is the fact that it is counties, with heavy concentrations of minority voters that use the punch card system. So, therefore, they can argue, it is discriminatory, because it creates a higher error margin in the voting machines used predominantly by minority voters, so it involves a civil rights question, as well as an equal protection question, and that's one of the reasons why the appeals court did stay the October 7th recall.

All right, Bill Schneider, stay close. We're going to get back to you in just a bit.



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