LOS ANGELES – California's top candidates for governor applauded the 9th Circuit Court's unanimous ruling to allow the recall election (search) to go on as scheduled.
"We are ready to beat the recall on Oct. 7," Peter Ragone, a campaign spokesman for embattled Democratic Gov. Gray Davis (search), said on Tuesday. "This recall has already cost enough in terms of public funds and time away from the public's business. It is time to move forward."
"This legal process has made clear that a March election would deprive the people of California the opportunity to vote without delay and without confusion. The 9th Circuit has ruled swiftly and decisively, and all Californians respect their diligence and hard work," read a statement released by the campaign of actor and Republican candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"We're very gratified that they appreciated the importance of not invalidating the now 670,000 absentee ballots that have been cast," said Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, whose office is reponsible for conducting the election.
In its ruling Tuesday, the 11-judge panel concluded that halting the recall election already in progress would do more harm than good.
"If the recall election scheduled for Oct. 7, 2003, is enjoined, it is certain that the state of California and its citizens will suffer material hardship by virtue of the enormous resources already invested in reliance on the election's proceedings on the announced date," read the opinion issued by the court.
After the ruling, the American Civil Liberties Union (search) said that it would not appeal the court's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The ACLU argued that holding the election next month will disenfranchise 40,000 voters, many of them minorities.
"With the election just two weeks away, we do not believe we should prolong the uncertainty any longer," said Dorothy M. Ehrlich, ACLU executive director for Northern California. "At this point it is important that the candidates, the campaigns and the voters know that the election will be held on a date that is certain."
The two-part vote on whether to oust Davis and elect one of 135 candidates to replace him now appears set to proceed.
The judges wrote they based their decision not on the merits of the argument, but on whether the district judge who first ruled to allow the election on whether to oust Davis had correctly adjudicated the case.
"The district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that plaintiffs will suffer no hardship that outweighs the stake of the state of California and its citizens in having this election go forward as planned and as required by the California Constitution," the opinion concluded.
The decision was a per curiam opinion, meaning the justices did not sign their names to it, and no dissenting opinions were recorded.
On Monday, opponents of the recall said punch card ballot machines cause error rates so high that they would disenfranchise voters in six counties -- Los Angeles, Mendocino, Sacramento, San Diego, Santa Clara and Solano -- that won't have new voting machines in place until January 2004.
The court heard the full review just 15 days before the scheduled election, after three of its justices ruled Sept. 15 to put it off.
The 11-judge panel, which is the largest bench the 26-judge court permits to hear a case, took considerable interest in Monday's claims, interjecting within moments of opening arguments by the ACLU, which alleges that holding the election next month would disenfranchise voters.
The ACLU said these voters would not have equal protection under the law because one in every 25 minority votes would be thrown out. Attorneys argued the case relying on Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court decision that ruled the Florida 2000 presidential recount had no uniformity and therefore its results could not be guaranteed.
The secretary of state's office and organizers of the recall election defended the Oct. 7 date, saying hundreds of thousands of voters would be disenfranchised if the absentee ballots they already sent in were thrown out.
They added that the district judge who first heard the case made the correct decision when he ruled that a compelling public interest requires the vote be held as scheduled. To delay the recall would violate the state constitution that orders an election to be held within 80 days of a recall petition's certification.
In the end, the judges agreed that the ACLU has a legitimate concern about the use of the punch card system, suggesting that an opening exists for post-election litigation. But the court ruled: "At this time it is merely a speculative possibility, however, that any such denial will influence the result of the election."
The judges also ruled to keep the two initiatives scheduled to be on the ballot in place. Propositions 53 and 54 relate to the state budget and racial privacy respectively.
With the race on, the candidates, who never took a breath during the court cases, continued to campaign undeterred.
Schwarzenegger began boning up for his only debate, scheduled for Wednesday night. On Monday, he released two commercials supporting the recall and slamming his opponents.
Davis, who met Tuesday with Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, returned volley, releasing a television ad that said his defeat would spell chaos.
"If 50 percent plus one vote 'yes' on recall, then one of these people will become governor almost immediately with little time for a transition, little time to assemble a cabinet. Will they be qualified? Up to running the fifth largest economy in the world?" an announcer asks.
Schwarzenegger's appearance in the debate could be a watershed moment for a campaign frozen in the polls. Schwarzenegger gained no ground on Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante even though Bustamante has been pounded for weeks over campaign finance infractions, having been ordered Monday to return $4 million in illegal contributions.
The decision by GOP challengers Bill Simon and Peter Ueberroth to drop out provided Schwarzenegger no boost, instead tightening his lead over rival GOP candidate state Sen. Tom McClintock, who benefited most from the other candidates' departures.
"Arnold hasn't picked up any support and you have to ask why not. And I think the answer is because his campaign has been awful. And he's not a stupid man, but they run it as if he is," said political analyst and Fox News contributor Susan Estrich.
Still analysts say the race is Schwarzenegger's to lose.
"The outcome of this election may be determined by the least competent campaign," said political strategist Arnold Steinberg.
Despite his many campaign challenges, Schwarzenegger picked up a key endorsement Tuesday. State Sen. and Republican leader Jim Brulte backed Schwarzenegger and asked long-time friend and political ally McClintock to drop out.
Fox News' Major Garrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.