LOS ANGELES - A federal appeals court postponed the Oct. 7 recall election Monday in a decision that threw what has already been a chaotic campaign into utter turmoil.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the historic vote cannot proceed as scheduled because some votes would be cast using outmoded punch-card ballot machines. The decision applies to all the recall questions on the ballot, as well as two propositions.
The court withheld ordering the immediate implementation of its decision by one week to allow time for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Give us 24 hours," said Ted Costa, head of the Sacramento-based Peoples' Advocate, one of the groups that put the recall on the ballot, who said an appeal is certain.
A spokesman for Gov. Gray Davis said the governor will continue his campaign "until the issue is resolved in the courts," but supported the appeals court's ruling.
"Anything that leads to greater enfranchisement in California is something we support," said spokesman Peter Ragone.
Neither Davis nor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the leading Republican among the 135 replacement candidates, had an immediate reaction to the three-judge panel's ruling, which could force the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on another highly partisan political issue - one Democrats have said echoes the 2000 election in which the high court declared Republican George Bush the winner.
The ruling is likely to benefit Davis if the election is delayed to the next regularly scheduled primary, March 2.
The March presidential primary is expected to draw large numbers of Democratic voters, and the months until then would give Davis more time to address the state's problems and force Schwarzenegger into a longer campaign.
The decision came as the race's top names were enlisting big national stars in their campaigns.
Trying to soften his image with women voters, Schwarzenegger assured talk show host Oprah Winfrey on Monday that reports of a salacious, party-hard past were more tall tale than truth and do not bear on his run for California governor.
Davis was in Southern California with former President Clinton to dedicate the William Jefferson Clinton elementary school in the impoverished suburb of Compton, and the two had planned to later attend a fund raiser.
In the ruling Monday, the judges of the 9th Circuit, the nation's largest and most liberal federal appeals court, agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union that the punch-card voting machines still used in six California counties are prone to error.
The counties - Los Angeles, in addition to Mendocino, Sacramento, San Diego, Santa Clara and Solano - were already under a separate court order to replace them by the March primary, but the machines wouldn't be replaced in time for an Oct. 7 special election.
"In sum, in assessing the public interest, the balance falls heavily in favor of postponing the election for a few months," the court said.
Schwarzenegger and his wife, television journalist Maria Shriver, were in Chicago on Monday morning taping the season premiere of "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Polls had showed the Republican actor struggling to win over women in the recall race, and women are the show's primary audience.
Schwarzenegger, speaking before the court ruled, told Winfrey he was excited about the campaign. He also talked about old magazine articles that had resurfaced in which he described a sexually salacious, party-hard lifestyle and said they reflected a 1970s strategy to pump up interest in body building, the sport that made him famous.
"We really were out there doing crazy things. We were trying to get the attention," he said. "At that time I didn't think I was going to run for governor."
Before Schwarzenegger took the stage, Winfrey asked Shriver - a member of the Kennedy family - whether she had been brought up to look the other way if her husband was a womanizer.
"You know that ticks me off," Shriver said. "I am my own woman, I have not been bred to look the other way. I accept him with all his strengths and all his weaknesses, as he does me."
Davis, meanwhile, was scheduled to make a second day of campaign stops with Clinton, following a joint appearance Sunday at a predominantly black church in Los Angeles.
Clinton had spoken passionately against the recall during the Sunday service, mixing Scripture with politics at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church.
He repeated his party's theme that the recall election is part of a right-wing power grab, and said removing Davis could scare future officeholders away from making difficult choices.
"This is way bigger than him," Clinton said. "It's you I'm worried about. It's California I worry about. I don't want you to become a laughing stock, or a carnival, or the beginning of a circus in America where we throw people out for making tough decisions."
"Don't do this. Don't do this," he said. The congregation erupted in applause.
Davis was also scheduled to campaign this week with other prominent Democratic figures, including former Vice President Al Gore, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and several of the 2004 Democratic presidential candidates. It wasn't immediately clear Monday if those plans would change.
State Democrats on Saturday, in an emergency meeting, said they opposed the recall but endorsed Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante as a back up candidate if voters decided to recall Davis.