SACRAMENTO, Calif. – With a rejiggered alphabet starting with the letter R, Jeff Rainforth, chairman of the Reform Party of California (search), thought he would be on top of the second half of California's two-part gubernatorial recall ballot.
"We were pretty ecstatic," said the 35-year-old Rainforth, who won only 2,800 votes in a congressional race last year.
Rainforth may end up being disappointed. On the ballot, which might list nearly 250 candidates to replace Gray Davis (search) as governor, O will always come before A.
Monday's random drawing of letters to determine the Oct. 7 ballot line-up re-ordered the alphabet to begin with the sequence R, W, Q, O, J, M, V, A and end in L — an order that will be applied throughout every candidate's name.
So in actuality David Laughing Horse Robinson, chairman of the Kawaiisu Indian tribe, will get top billing among the 15 candidates whose surnames begin with R, not Rainforth.
However, Robinson will be first only in California's 1st Assembly District, which runs south from the Oregon to Sonoma County in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In the interest of fairness, names will be rotated one position in each of the 80 districts — so Robinson will drop down to the bottom of the list in District 2 and every other candidate will shift up one.
Smokers'-rights advocate Ned Roscoe gets the top spot there, before dropping to the bottom and elevating Democrat Daniel C. Ramirez to the No. 1 spot in District 3.
Assuming all 15 "R" candidates are certified, the 16th-district ballot will lead with the first "W" surname.
The process will repeat through each of the 80 districts. Candidates who started near the top on ballots used in northern California shift to the bottom around San Diego, and then work their way toward the middle in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
While the precise order won't be known until late Wednesday, when Secretary of State Kevin Shelley certifies the candidates, it looks as if many gubernatorial hopefuls will never see their names in the first half of the list.
That's because 247 people have submitted candidacy papers. So far, 115 have been certified. The secretary of state's office is working on the rest of them.
Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt (search) and former Major League Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth (search), whose initials pulled 25th and 21st respectively, will probably never make it to the top spot.
The letters H, B and S were drawn back to back, meaning some high-profile candidates — commentator Arianna Huffington (search), Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (search), actor Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) and 2002 GOP candidate Bill Simon (search) — will be relatively near each other on most ballots.
The state has used the rotating alphabet since 1975 to help erase the estimated 5 percent advantage a candidate gets from being at the top of the ballot, Shelley said. The sheer number of candidates vying to replace Davis turned the routine process into a six-minute grab bag.
County elections officials fear more difficulties processing such a large ballot, including doing more work by hand, but Shelley urged precision over speed when the polls close on Oct. 7.
"I urge them to do it accurately," he said.
A greatly expanded ballot also means higher costs for the special election, now estimated at up to $66 million. Contra Costa County elections officials said the long candidate list could raise ballot costs by $750,000 over the county's earlier estimate of $1.6 million.
Shelley promised Monday he will ask for help.
"To assist the counties, I intend to urge the Legislature to underwrite the added costs of this election," he said.
The California State Association of Counties (search), noting the state has typically paid for special elections, also intends to seek legislative relief.
Shelley said the state's planned share of the costs ballooned from $7 million to $11 million because a short time frame will require first-class stamps to mail 11 million sample ballots. Normally, the pamphlets are mailed at a lower, slower postage rate.
With each candidate allowed to make a 250-word statement, the pamphlet could be 50 pages long.
"It's like we're spending next month's rent, or grocery bill," Michael Petrucello, assistant registrar for Los Angeles County, told the Los Angeles Times. Election costs in that county are expected to reach $13.2 million.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.