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Recall Clears Latest Legal Hurdle

A panel of federal judges said Friday it would not postpone California's gubernatorial recall vote, removing one of the last legal barriers to the Oct. 7 election.

The decision came the morning after the U.S. Justice Department made a formal determination that Monterey County's hurriedly assembled balloting plans for the election to unseat Gov. Gray Davis did not constitute a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.

Justice Department spokesman Jorge Martinez said Friday that federal officials had signed off on Monterey County's recall arrangements.

The three federal judges last week had delayed their decision on the pair of lawsuits filed by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in anticipation of guidance from the Justice Department.

The judges said Friday they would give guidance to Monterey County later in the day on how it should go about mailing its 350 overseas ballots. They are considering allowing the county to send the ballots via e-mail.

Another legal challenge to the recall election is still pending in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. That lawsuit, filed by the ACLU, challenges the use of punch-card ballots in six counties. A hearing is scheduled Sept. 11.

Meanwhile on the campaign trail, Arnold Schwarzenegger flexed Hollywood muscle at a voter registration rally Thursday, appearing unfazed by criticism about his command of the issues following his no-show at the recall campaign's first debate.

"Everyone in Sacramento will have more details than I have, but I know exactly what needs to be done," he told The Associated Press in an interview.

The Republican action star beamed with confidence as supporters jostled to get in line while he manned a voter-registration table at an outdoor mall in Riverside.

"There are millions of people in this state that have never voted before, that are not registered. We have to bring them in to make sure that they vote," Schwarzenegger exhorted the crowd.

Gov. Gray Davis was also quick to get back on the campaign trail after Wednesday's debate, conducting a town hall-style meeting in another bid to reconnect with Californians.

After visiting a high school in San Diego to highlight progress in building new schools, he held his third in a series of "Conversations with Californians" — a strategy aimed at shedding his wooden image.

The Los Angeles Times reports the governor is warming to the more personal approach, although it has not yet helped his dismal poll numbers.

Davis, who was re-elected to a second term as governor in November, told the forum that the recall process was being abused and should be reserved for officials accused of criminal wrongdoing.

"The recalled official has to have his hand in the cookie jar, do some criminal action," Davis said.

Davis also attacked Schwarzenegger's claim in a new TV ad that California spends $29 million more each day than it is taking in. State officials say that under the new budget, which includes heavy borrowing, the state is bringing in about $6 million more each day than it spends.

"Arnold needs to take a refresher course in math," Davis said at the town hall.

Asked about that claim earlier in Riverside, Schwarzenegger said he "looked at the numbers very carefully" before approving the ad.

"The reality is that they play games with the numbers," he said.

Schwarzenegger also responded to criticism from Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante that he is anti-immigrant, saying the fact he is Austrian-born makes him "the poster child for immigrants."

"I don't need to get a lesson from anyone else about immigration because I've been there," he told the AP. "Whereas other candidates are maybe sons of immigrants, but I'm the true immigrant, OK? So let's just make that clear."

Schwarzenegger added that he was referring to Bustamante, the son of an immigrant barber.

Bustamante's campaign has pointed to Schwarzenegger's opposition to a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses and his support for Proposition 187, a 1994 initiative that sought to deny some services to illegal immigrants.

Bustamante, who is leading in the latest poll, drew criticism from the state chairman of his own party Thursday for accepting $2 million in Indian gaming money that circumvented current campaign spending limits by funneling most of the cash to an old campaign account.

Chairman Art Torres said it didn't "smell good."

According to The Washington Post, the $2 million was part of $3 million Bustamante has taken from gambling interests. Republican State Sen. Ross Johnson has complained to a state watchdog agency and filed a lawsuit alleging the contributions violate campaign finance law.

In some good news for voters, and perhaps for Davis, the state Public Utilities Commission on Thursday approved giving utility customers a one-time credit that will appear on their bills as soon as Sept. 19.

The refund is due to the state overestimating by $1 billion how much cash it needed from ratepayers to buy power.

Officials with the commission and Davis' administration said the timing has nothing to do with Davis' fight to keep his job. California's energy crisis damaged the governor's standing.