By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
Some of Del Norte County's registered voters, along with some non-voters, have put their signatures on the petition to recall Gov. Gray Davis.
The Del Norte County Clerk-Recorder's Office verified it received 384 signatures by Monday, although the number of valid signatures so far is substantially lower.
"I've received three different parcels (batches) with signatures in them, and I've only gone through one so far," said Deputy Election Clerk Susan Mealue. "Out of 48 signatures in the first parcel, 36 of the signatures were valid."
The second batch contains 260 signatures, and the third has 76. Mealue said she will not be able to verify all of those signatures until later in the week.
Bob Berkowitz, a member of the Del Norte County Republican Central Committee, said he expected as much as 15 percent of signatures would prove invalid. Berkowitz was quick to point out that the Central Committee has taken no position on the recall yet.
"Personally, I think the longer it takes to get a budget passed, the more likely it is that the recall will be successful," he said. "People get angry when they do the work but they don't get paid, and many state employees are beginning to get very angry."
Recall backers throughout the state said they were bracing for a legal challenge aimed at whether the people gathering signatures were registered to vote in California, as state election law specifies they must be. They predicted they would easily turn such a lawsuit aside.
"Whatever they do will amount to nothing more than a frivolous lawsuit," said Chris Wysocki, spokesman for Rescue California Recall Gray Davis.
"We had to make sure that we played this strictly by the numbers and by the book and we did everything possible," he added. "A signature-gatherer did not get paid unless they were a registered voter."
Supporters of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis on Monday plotted potential court challenges to a Republican-led recall campaign and prepared to take their counterattack public Tuesday.
They said all options were open.
"We're looking at everything in terms of who's handling petitions, what the people were being told, whether people who were circulating petitions were legally able to do so or not," said Nick Velasquez, spokesman for Taxpayers Against the Recall.
The group, while declining to specify an approach, scheduled a press conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday to discuss its legal strategy. Organized labor, which helped re-elect Davis to his second term in November, also announced it will step up its anti-recall campaign at a major strategy session with two dozen community groups next week.
The recall attempt in the state has been fueled by discontent over California's energy crisis and $38 billion budget deficit, critics say.
Rescue California held a Sacramento press conference to announce it was delivering the last batch of signatures to counties and had amassed more than 1.6 million, far more than 897,158 necessary to get a recall on the ballot. Counties still must verify the signatures as valid.
Even Davis supporters concede that a recall election now looks nearly inevitable. However, any legal battle could delay it from this fall when recall backers want it to March, when heavy Democratic turnout for the state's presidential primary could help Davis.
The lieutenant governor will set the election date after the secretary of state certifies sufficient signatures have been turned in. Recall backers hope that will happen next week, when counties face an interim, July 23 deadline to report signature counts to Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, a Democrat.
They said Monday that counties will have all the signatures by Wednesday, the last day for counties to receive signatures for the July 23 deadline.
Associated Press writer Erica Werner contributed to this story.