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Judge refuses to delay California recall

ACLU cites rights of minority voters

Mark D. Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, left, and Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California.
Mark D. Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, left, and Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California.

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LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- A federal court Wednesday refused to delay California's gubernatorial recall, rejecting the American Civil Liberties Union's challenge to the October 7 date.

The ACLU argued that the use of punch-card machines in six California counties could result in errors that would disadvantage minority voters. The group wanted the recall delayed until March to give counties time to put newer voting technology in place.

All six counties named in the lawsuit have high concentrations of minority voters, according to the ACLU. The counties are: Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, Santa Clara, Solano and Mendocino.

But U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson rejected the argument, saying Californians have "a strong public interest in promptly determining whether a particular elected official should remain in office."

"The recall election in particular is an extraordinary exercise of public sentiment," Wilson said.

In a Monday hearing, Wilson suggested that case law requires plaintiffs to demonstrate intentional discrimination.

And officials from the state's attorney general's office said predictions of a massive miscount in the October recall were strictly speculation.

Officials with the ACLU have indicated that an appeal of U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson's decision is likely.

Voters are scheduled to go to the polls October 7 to decide whether to recall incumbent Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and if the recall succeeds, to select a replacement from a field of 135 candidates.

Lawyers for Davis also cited the punch card issue in a state court lawsuit seeking to delay the recall until March, when a strong Democratic turnout is expected for the state's presidential primary. The California Supreme Court turned down that plea.

Justice Department signs off

In a related matter, the U.S. Justice Department signed off on the election Monday, saying it does not violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The department had been asked to review election procedures by a federal judge in San Jose who is hearing another lawsuit that questions whether minority rights would be safeguarded in four other counties.

The lawsuit singles out Monterey County, where election officials are trying to save money by cutting polling places from 190 to 86 and hiring fewer Spanish-speaking poll workers. The suit says such cutbacks could discriminate against voters.

Under the Voting Rights Act, all changes in election practices in Monterey, Kings, Yuba and Merced counties, which have a history of low turnout by minority voters, must be approved by the Justice Department's civil rights lawyers.

The suit also seeks to delay the election. The judge is not bound by the Justice Department's advice. A hearing is scheduled August 29.


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