SACRAMENTO, Calif. – With close to 200 candidates already signed up to run in the state's historic recall election of Gov. Gray Davis (search), the ballot itself could be a real page-turner.
When Californians vote Oct. 7, they may have to scan though several pages of options until they find the candidate of their choice. The ballot listings themselves also will vary from district to district.
On Monday, the secretary of state was scheduled to hold a random drawing to determine the order in which candidates' names will appear since state law requires more than just across-the-board alphabetized lists.
The recall election (search), first in the nation in 82 years, has attracted as many as 193 candidates, including actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth and political commentator Arianna Huffington.
But scores of other candidates with unknown or strangely familiar names -- like electrical engineer Michael Jackson -- also have qualified, making position on the ballot a key to success, according to political observers.
A lottery-style drawing of canisters will determine an initial random alphabetical order. If "U" is drawn first then Ueberroth may be listed near the top in District 1. If "C" is drawn second, then all the candidates whose name begins with "C" rank high. And so on through the alphabet.
"The big unknown is who will turn out to vote in this election," said John Pitney, government professor at Claremont McKenna College (search). "How many will vote on the recall question and then freeze when they see this list of over 100 names?"
For additional fairness, the listing of names on the ballot will be rotated across the state's 80 Assembly districts. The candidate at the top of the ballot in District 1 would go to the end of the ballot in District 2 so that every letter of the alphabet gets the top position somewhere in the state.
The final list of names certified for the ballot is due to be released Wednesday.
Davis will lose if he gets 49.9 percent or less on Oct. 7. With so many challengers on the ballot, the eventual winner could only need a fraction of the vote to become governor.
A poll of 508 registered voters released Saturday found Davis with just 35 percent of the vote supporting him. The same poll had Schwarzenegger leading Bustamante 25 percent to 15 percent. The poll, taken Friday, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percent.
There was little campaigning Sunday. In one of the few choreographed media events, Schwarzenegger's campaign let reporters view -- but not copy -- some of his past tax returns. They showed he paid more than $9 million in state and federal income tax in 2001 on $26.1 million in income, while giving $4.2 million to charity.
Much of the political talk Sunday focused on whether Schwarzenegger will address difficult issues, especially the economy. Coming after a bitter budget battle in the Legislature, the recall election has tarnished the state's already battered image with investors.
Candidate Bill Simon, the Republican who lost to Davis last year, told "Fox News Sunday" that if elected he would fight the state's huge deficit through government cutbacks and a reform of the workers' compensation system.
He called Schwarzenegger's entry in the race a good thing, "because it calls attention to the recall." But, he added, "this is not time for soundbites, Hollywood scripts or short prescriptions."
One hint at Schwarzenegger's political leanings came Sunday when his campaign confirmed that he voted in 1994 for Proposition 187 (search), the divisive ballot measure that denied social services to illegal immigrants, turning many Hispanics against the California Republican Party.
Polls and interviews across the state indicate many voters believe Davis needs to go but respondents are unsure who, if anyone, should replace him.
Candidates also include former child actor Gary Coleman, melon-smashing comedian Gallagher, smut peddler Larry Flynt and the porn star known as Mary Carey, along with several actual politicians and dozens of unknowns.
Dawn Cain, a 32-year-old assistant manager at The Living Room cafe in San Diego, was unsure whom she would pick, but suggested it almost didn't matter who was governor as long as it wasn't Davis.
"I think we need someone different," she said. "A change couldn't hurt."