San Jose, Calif. A federal judge warned Friday that he may postpone California's Oct. 7 recall election over voting rights questions, and ordered Monterey County to refrain from mailing out overseas ballots until the questions are resolved.
The new uncertainty in the already chaotic special election came on a day a poll showed support building for the ouster of Gov. Gray Davis, and when a billionaire adviser to candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger was widely rebuked for suggesting California property taxes are too low.
U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel's ruling came hours after two civil rights groups argued that the hurry-up election didn't give the Justice Department enough time to approve changes in the voting process.
Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the federal government must approve voting changes in four California counties with a history of low voter participation. The cases argued Friday focus on Monterey County, which plans fewer polling places and fewer Spanish-speaking poll workers for the election.
"This court is extremely reluctant to intervene in or disrupt the electoral process unless it clearly is compelled to do so," Fogel wrote late Friday. "At the same time, permitting voting or other forms of direct political participation to be affected by changes in voting procedures implemented in contravention of the Voting Rights Act cannot be countenanced."
Fogel scheduled a hearing Aug. 29 and suggested he might delay the election if federal approval hasn't happened by then. In the meantime, he ordered Monterey County not to send about 200 ballots to voters overseas.
Thomas Saenz, attorney for one of the civil rights groups, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said even the delay in mailing overseas votes could force postponement of the election, if overseas voters can't return their ballots by Oct. 7.
The California Attorney General's Office and Monterey County officials conceded that without federal approval the entire special election would have to be postponed, perhaps until the March primary.