Tuesday, October 7, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Long lines of voters turn out for California's recall

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Voters streamed to the polls today to make a decision unprecedented in California history: whether to recall Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, whose popularity plunged after the downturn in the economy and the bursting of the high-tech bubble.

From one end of the state to the other, lines seemed to be moving quickly in and out of polling places, despite one glitch in Hollywood when a polling place failed to open as scheduled at 7 a.m.

Voters were diverted to an adjacent polling place, where early turnout was the heaviest Patti Negri said she had seen in 12 years as a polling supervisor.

"I've never been so busy, ever," she said. "We had to do a lot of paperwork but people seem excited and ready to vote."

Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger created a stir when he arrived to vote with his wife, Maria Shriver, at a Pacific Palisades mansion. Hundreds of people were there, but most were reporters and photographers.

Schwarzenegger said he had to put on his glasses to read the ballot, which was several pages long, but the actor said he had no trouble finding his name.

"I just went through the pages," he said. "Instead of going through two pages I just went through 10 pages and you always look for the longest name."

After he cast his own vote in West Hollywood, Davis said: "I feel absolutely terrific. I have always trusted the voters of California and I know they're going to do the right thing today." On the replacement candidates, he said he voted for the "most qualified person ... and you can probably figure out who that is."

Voters were asked to decide the ending of a saga that has captivated the nation for months: whether Davis should become the country's second governor to be recalled, and if so, who among 135 candidates should replace him.

Recent polls suggested that a majority of voters favored dumping the governor, and that Schwarzenegger was the leading replacement candidate.

"It's time to mix things up," said Mark Laurent, 33, of San Francisco, voting yes on recall and for Schwarzenegger.

But Gretchen Purser, 25, of Berkeley, voted no on recall and for Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante as the fallback candidate for governor: "I'm horrified at the thought that Schwarzenegger can be our governor. ... I'm sick of Republicans trying to take over the state."

Davis' popularity plunged following the economic downturn. Californians face an $8 billion state budget deficit, persistent unemployment and struggling schools.

The Davis campaign said its internal tracking polls for the past three nights showed voters almost evenly split on the recall issue with just slightly more than 50 percent in favor. Schwarzenegger's campaign, however, said its tracking poll showed the pro-recall side solidly ahead.

Both campaign's polls said Schwarzenegger was ahead in the race to select a replacement, leading Bustamante and Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock.

An upbeat Bustamante arrived at his polling place in the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove shortly after 9 a.m. "This is what it's all about, getting out to vote," said Bustamante.

In Thousand Oaks, McClintock voted and urged citizens to "simply vote your conscience. ... If everybody who believes I am the best qualified votes for me, we will have an upset tonight." Things had begun quietly at that polling place, but soon people began arriving in large numbers, some with children in tow.

Although more than 2.2 million people had already voted by absentee ballot, officials were expecting lines throughout the state, especially because polling places were consolidated to accommodate the short time officials had to prepare for the vote.

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley declined to estimate the turnout because this election has no precedent, but his office reported last week that a record number of voters for a gubernatorial race — 15,380,526 — were registered. At late morning, his office said polling places around the state were reporting long lines and a shortage of parking places but that otherwise things were going well.

Davis and Schwarzenegger spent the campaign's final day on Monday crisscrossing the state for support. Schwarzenegger denied last-minute sexual misconduct allegations, and Davis pleaded for another chance from voters who elected him to a second term less than a year ago.

On CBS' "The Early Show" today, both state party leaders sounded confident.

"The governor is going to be recalled and Arnold will win the second question and be elected governor," GOP Chairman Duf Sundheim said.

Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres said the predicted high turnout "could be the definite advantage for the governor."

The chaotic gubernatorial campaign began with a Republican-led effort and survived a handful of legal challenges. Along the way, the unpopular governor was blamed for myriad problems, including the state's economic downturn, and Schwarzenegger, the former Mr. Universe, grabbed much of the spotlight from a field of replacement candidates that included two experienced politicians — McClintock and Bustamante — as well as a sumo wrestler and a stripper.

Schwarzenegger's poll numbers got a bounce after a lively Sept. 24 debate that brought together all the top candidates for the first and only time. Although the questions had been made available to the candidates before the forum, analysts said Schwarzenegger accomplished what he needed to by appearing confident and in command of issues.

With allegations dogging him that he had groped and sexually harassed as many as 16 women over the last three decades, Schwarzenegger on Monday marshaled the support of his mother-in-law, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and wife and surrounded himself with women-friendly messages.

Davis reached out to his core of labor support, marching in San Francisco with hundreds of firefighters, mostly clad in blue "No Recall" T-shirts.

"If you give me the chance to finish my term, I will do it with all the passion, all the humanity I can muster because my goal is to make your life better," Davis told the crowd.

Rep. Darrell Issa, the wealthy Republican congressman who bankrolled the recall campaign but abandoned an effort to run for governor himself, said he would consider his effort a success even if the recall fails.

"We're going to have record turnout, record involvement by the people of California, and when record numbers vote, America wins," Issa said after casting his ballot at his polling place in Vista.

In addition to the recall, two ballot measures also were being decided: Proposition 53 would steer 1 percent of the state annual budget to fix California's roads, bridges and sewage plants, and Proposition 54 would ban the state from using race, ethnicity or national origin to classify people in public education, contracting and employment.

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company


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