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California Recall on Hold

Shocking! Outrageous!

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court (of course!) has ruled to postpone the California recall election:

The appeals court unanimously ruled it is unacceptable that six California counties would be using outdated punch-card ballots. Those counties are already under court order to replace punch cards with more modern systems such as touch-screen ballots by the March primary.

The six counties include the state's most populous, Los Angeles, as well as Sacramento and San Diego counties. Altogether they contained 44 percent of California's registered voters during the 2000 election.

Why the hell is this a federal issue? Shouldn't this be handled entirely by state courts? Why does the federal government have jurisdiction?

Article 2, Sections 15(a-b) of the California Constitution read:

(a) An election to determine whether to recall an officer and, if appropriate, to elect a successor shall be called by the Governor and held not less than 60 days nor more than 80 days from the date of certification of sufficient signatures.

(b) A recall election may be conducted within 180 days from the date of certification of sufficient signatures in order that the election may be consolidated with the next regularly scheduled election occurring wholly or partially within the same jurisdiction in which the recall election is held, if the number of voters eligible to vote at that next regularly scheduled election equal at least 50 percent of all the voters eligible to vote at the recall election. [source]

The certification happened on July 29, and the next regular election (for the Presidential primary) will be on March 2, so section (b) can't apply. Section (a) instructs the state to hold the election in no more than 80 days. A federal court order to postpone the recall election is tantamount to ordering the state to violate its own constitution.

This is not good. Nearly half of Californa's population was in a punch-card ballot zone — and used them with apparent success — in 2000. Are punch-card ballots so egregiously awful that it's worth provoking a state constitutional crisis to prevent their use?

I see the movement away from punch-card ballots at best as simply an incremental improvement in the quality of voting machinery. I think the claim that the mere use of such ballots is disenfranchisement is ludicrous.

I hope the U.S. Supreme Court overturns this 9th Circuit decision, and I hope they're mean about it.


FWIW, voting in my area of Oregon is done with punch-card ballots. We don't appear to have any trouble with them.

UPDATE 2003-09-24 03:33:59 UTC: The case didn't make it to the Supreme Court, this ruling was overturned within the 9th Circuit.

Tiny Island