Today's Papers

Recall Totaled? 

Everybody leads with a federal appeals court’s decision to postpone California’s recall election because by the planned October vote date a few counties would still be using punch-card ballots, which have slightly higher rates of error than many other voting methods. The judges allowed a week for appeals and pro-recall lawyers said they plan on immediately asking the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay.

“The Constitution does not demand the use of the best available technology,” the judges wrote. “However, what the Constitution does require is equal treatment of votes cast.”

The three judge panel—which has frequently had its rulings overturned by the Supremes—didn’t set a new a date for the election, but state officials had earlier promised to phase out punch-card ballots by next March’s primary. So if the ruling is upheld, March becomes the likely date for the recall.

Nearly every election official cited in the papers seems to think the decision is a stinker. “If you do the proper instruction and ballot preparation, and properly prepare them for counting,” one elections consultant told USA Today, “punch cards are as good as any system that’s out there.” That quote comes from a piece on punch-card ballots, the gist of which is: The judges are wrong.

As elections experts in USAT and elsewhere point out, delaying the recall and including it in the March primary likely means a bigger ballot, potentially too big for some new technologies to handle. “No one even asked the largest county in the state if we had the capacity to run it in March,” L.A. County’s top election official told the Los Angeles Times. “The answer is no.”

One Democratic county clerk in Los Angeles told the New York Times, “We’re calling the Super Bowl because the grass is too wet, whatever the score is, throw that out.”

As the Washington Post emphasizes in a frontpage analysis, the appeals court’s ruling repeatedly cites as precedent none other than Bush v. Gore. That earlier decision was based on the Constitution’s equal protection clause and the notion that everybody should have the same chance to have their vote counted. The Post explains that it’s not only the judges that have relied on that ruling. For liberal groups fighting the recall, the 2000 election case has “mutated from reviled electoral coup to legitimate legal weapon.” But one legal scholar told the Post that the judges “over-read” Bush v. Gore because in that case the court was ruling on the lack of standards for a manual recount, not just machine counting errors.

A NYT editorial says the judges “did the right thing” and prevented “mass disenfranchisement.” The LAT, which opposes the recall, suggests its right-coast competitor needs to take a chill pill: “Something more than statistical hand-wringing about chads should be required before throwing out an election for which absentee voting has already begun.”

The WP notes on Page One that somebody, perhaps common criminals, gunned down the police chief of an Iraqi town yesterday. On Sunday, the Post’s Anthony Shadid profiled the police in that town, explaining that police working with Americans felt they were putting their lives in jeopardy. “Even our families call us collaborators,” said one cop.  Also yesterday, another GI was killed by guerrillas.

The LAT’s Jeffrey Fleishman visits Baghdad’s morgue and looks at the numbers: Before the war, the city had an average of 20 deaths per month caused by guns. In June, it was 389 and in August 518. Suspicious deaths went from 250 this time last year to 872 in August.

Everybody briefly notes that Israeli officials backed off threats to kill Yasser Arafat. Israel’s vice prime minister gave the warning over the weekend, but the foreign minister whapped him for mouthing off, and said it doesn’t represent official Israeli policy. That was pretty obvious from the beginning, despite the papers’ play yesterday of the trash-talking.

As you may recall, yesterday’s LAT  gave front-page coverage to Vice President Cheney’s appearance on Meet the Press but forgot to mention whether or not he was full of it. Today the paper clarifies, at least for those lonely readers who make it to the LAT editorial page: The vice president’s “sweeping, unproven claims” about Saddam’s alleged connection to al-Qaida suggest that Cheney hasn’t been hiding out at a secure, undisclosed location; he’s been “stuck in a time warp.” The editorial’s title: “CHENEY IN WONDERLAND.”