SAN FRANCISCO – Gov. Gray Davis (search), buoyed by a week of appearances with heavyweight Democrats, cast his support for a quick recall election after a federal appeals court agreed to rethink postponing the ballot.
Davis' call Friday to bring on the Oct. 7 election defies conventional wisdom that he would benefit from a drawn-out process that would give him a chance to demonstrate his leadership skills.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (search) announced Friday it would reconsider a three-judge panel's ruling to postpone the vote, extending the uncertainty that has overshadowed the campaign.
"My attitude is, let's just get it over with, let's just have this election on Oct. 7, put this recall behind us so we can get on with governing the state of California," Davis said.
Many political analysts say a postponement, possibly until the March presidential primary, could also help Davis by bringing more Democrats to the polls as attention focuses on the battle for the White House.
A panel of 11 judges will hear arguments Monday on whether the panel erred when it ruled that the October date must be delayed to prevent six counties from using the same type of unreliable punch-card ballots (search) that disrupted the 2000 presidential election.
Some legal experts said Friday's decision suggests the court has serious misgivings about the postponement and may be inclined to let the election go ahead next month. The 11-judge panel, chosen by lottery, includes eight judges appointed by Democrats, seven of them by President Clinton. The court's ruling could be further appealed to the Supreme Court.
Davis campaigned Friday in Los Angeles with former Vice President Al Gore, in part to draw a connection between the special election and the circumstances of Gore's own defeat three years ago.
Gore lost Florida — and thus the presidency — in a disputed election that made "hanging chads" a household term.
"Hear my words now," Gore said. "I don't want you to wake up on the morning after the election and see somebody that you don't even know ... somebody who's going to take your state down in the wrong direction walking in, overturning the will of the people."
Mark Rosenbaum, ACLU legal director, said the group was disappointed with the court's move. He said the election should be delayed until the March presidential primary; otherwise, some voters will be using outdated polling mechanisms that "in a few months, you can buy at a garage sale."
"This is like a patient that doctors are pushing into surgery, when you know there's a complication that will hinder that patient from being fully healthy again," said the Rev. Norman Johnson, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, one of the civil rights groups represented by the ACLU.
"We cannot understand in fact why Oct. 7 is such a magical date for us to make decisions about the future destiny of this state," he said.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the leading Republican candidate, applauded the appeals court's move. "California officials have made it clear that they can administer a fair election on Oct. 7," he said in a statement.
One expert who follows the 9th Circuit, University of Pittsburgh School of Law professor Arthur Hellman, suggested the court is rehearing the case because a majority of the judges think the "decision is wrong or open to serious question."
Between 1994 and 1999, the court reheard 65 cases with the 11-judge panels, according to a Hellman study. The larger panel reversed or altered the outcome of the three-judge panels 49 times, according to the study.
"Based on the track record, you would expect the [11-judge panel] to allow the election to go forward as scheduled," he said.
Vikram Amar, a Hastings College of the Law legal scholar who also follows the court, said that the composition of the 11 judges chosen at random also favors a different outcome.
"I'll be surprised if they come out the same way the three judges did," Amar said. "Then again, who knows what they are going to do." over again. No one wants to go back and do that again."