Ballot Pox

Illustration by Bob AulThe recall ends as it began, with a piece of paper that could help undermine democracy in California, a Republican with a dubious background briefly occupying center stage, and Tom McClintock not standing a chance of being elected governor. The only difference is that now the piece of paper is the ballot instead of a recall petition designed to oust a recently elected governor for being extremely unlikable, the Republican with the dubious background is Stan Statham instead of Darrell Issa, and as for Tom McClintock, well, no change there.

Recent stories in The Orange County Registerand the Modesto Bee describe what could be a serious problem with the election ballot used in at least seven counties, including Orange County. The first instruction on the ballot directs the voter to fill in "the rectangle to the left of any candidate or to the left of the word 'YES' OR 'NO.'" The use of the word "or" instead of "and" as the conjunction joining both halves of the ballot had confused some absentee voters the papers interviewed, creating the impression that you can only vote on either the recall question or a replacement candidate, instead of being able to vote on both as the law allows.

Election officials interviewed by the papers claim that there will be no confusion as long as everyone reads his or her sample ballot pamphlets carefully. Others are less certain.

"This is in the category of things that might actually be serious," UC Irvine political-science professor Mark Petracca told the Reg. "It compounds the confusion."

Confusion, of course, was what distinguished the California Broadcasters Association (CBA) debate on Sept. 24 from all previous debates. True, Arnold Schwarzenegger was there, but all that proved was Schwarzenegger can avoid specifics and reel off scripted one-liners while sitting in a room with other candidates, just like he does at Arnold-only photo ops.

No, the person most responsible for the confusion was inept moderator Stan Statham, president and CEO of the CBA. If Stan seemed to favor Arnold, it's probably because long before the CBA, Stan was with the GOP, representing the city of Redding and its environs as a Republican member of the state assembly from 1976 to 1994. He also ran for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in 1994 but lost to Cathie Wright, who went on to lose to Gray Davis in the general election.

Statham's one moment in the national spotlight before the CBA debate came in 1991, when he introduced an Assembly bill calling for the destruction of California, literally. His legislation would have divided the state in two. Since 1854, the dream of carving out their own state has persisted among some aggrieved souls in far northern California, but after the Civil War gave secession a bad name, it was hard for the separatists to find politicians willing to champion their cause. By the 1990s, no sensible politician would touch it. But as anyone who watched the CBA debate knows, "sensible" is not the first adjective you'd reach for to describe Stan Statham. His 1991 bill failed, but that didn't stop him. In 1992, he introduced a bill to divide California into three separate states.

It's tempting to think the CBA chose a man notable only for his attempts to destroy California to moderate the debate as a subtle comment on the recall, though it's unlikely the CBA is capable of such wit.


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