“We don’t have a Bush v. Gore problem,” Judge Alex Kozinski declared as the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided to let California’s October 7 vote go forward on whether to recall Governor Gray Davis and with whom to replace him if the recall passes. Sweeping aside equal-protection concerns, the eleven-judge panel unanimously overturned an earlier decision to delay the election because evidence suggested that flawed punch-card systems in six counties might disfranchise as many as 40,000 voters. Instead, the judges decided that the harm done to the public by postponing the recall would be greater than the harm done by using faulty machines.

Kozinski’s declaration referred to the 2000 presidential election debacle in Florida, where thousands of voters–most of them from counties that strongly supported Al Gore–were disqualified because of flawed voting systems, bad ballot designs and officials who seemed more zealous about preventing voters from casting ballots than getting an accurate count. But this isn’t just about Florida, or California. Voters are disfranchised all the time; Florida made the news–and the courts–only because control of the White House came down to a few votes. That’s why Congress must establish universal voting and vote-counting standards that assure that ballots cast anywhere in America carry the same weight.

Now the drama in California moves from the courts back to the candidates. Polls suggest that with the help of former President Clinton, former Vice President Gore, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and most of the candidates for next year’s Democratic presidential nomination, Davis is having some success in making the recall vote a referendum on the Republican Party’s penchant for gaming the system. That focus conveniently skirts the fact that Davis remains an extremely unpopular figure. On the matter of who should replace him, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger’s celebrity appeal has not yet converted to the poll numbers his backers anticipated–at least in part because a lot of California Republicans prefer right-wing purist Tom McClintock. Democrat Cruz Bustamante has kept even with Schwarzenegger so far, but his grab-it-all approach to fundraising has caught up with him–a county judge just told him to stop dipping into an old campaign account and to return the $4 million in it to donors. Independent Arianna Huffington, though an attractive candidate, has yet to catch fire.

This recall election was staged by right-wing insiders and millionaires. It did not spring from the grassroots. But now that it’s on, at least let’s hope all the votes are counted.