By punch cards Gray Davis was re-elected last fall. And by the same system it now seems, he will finally be punched out of office, as originally scheduled, on October 7. The 11-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as much as laughed the ACLU “voting rights” lawsuit out of chambers. Hardly an accident that the decision overturning the suspension of the recall was unanimous. No one could come up with tangible evidence that the punch-card system violated anybody’s rights.

Now that the recall is back on track, it’s time to roll out a mechanized division of monster-sized pooper scoopers to comb the state’s valleys, canyons and arroyos to scrape up all those dead Democrats who for the — what is it now? — the third, fourth or fifth time? — went lemming-like right over the cliffs for Gray Davis. How many poor liberals started off last week rationalizing how the original bluntly partisan and ultimately absurd court intervention was a good thing, and it was okay to halt an election in progress? But by the end of the week, they found out that Davis and his sidekick Cruz had flip-flopped and were calling for the recall to go ahead.

Just as the ACLU lawsuit never really had anything to do with defending the disenfranchised, neither did the Davis backtrack. After seeing that media attention was shifting to the court battle and markedly away from the ensemble cast of national Democratic superstars — Clinton, Gore, Kerry, and Jesse Jackson — that Davis had brought out here to stump for him, the panicked governor decided to cut his losses and detach from the ACLU lawsuit. Which is, of course, exactly what he would have done even if minority voting rights really were at stake. What a mensch!

The eight-day pause in the recall scheduling, nevertheless, caused irreparable harm. Absentee voting, that had skyrocketed to 538,000 in the few days before the original order to postpone the election, came to a screeching halt. The county’s chief deputy registrar-recorder said she had received 397,900 requests for absentee ballots. That compares with 275,000 requests for the same period last year. “It is amazing to see,” she told the Daily News. “None of us can remember anything like this.” As it is, absentee voting is still 50 percent greater for this election than it was last November.

Mark DiCamillo of the prestigious Field Poll said “[t]his is the most phenomenal election event we’ve seen in years.” That is, until, the first court ruling put everything on hold. The real pity is that the last day to register to vote was this Monday, the same day as the court’s hearing and a full day before it issued its go-ahead for October 7.

After rightfully complaining for 30 years now that American politics are plagued by voter apathy, lagging registration and anemic turnout, pro-Davis liberals and self-styled “progressives” who supported the postponement must now bear the responsibility of having deterred untold thousands of potential voters from registering for an election that looked like it had been canceled. And all to defend Gray Davis! The Sacramento county registrar told the press that, on the heels of the postponement, her office was deluged with phone calls from voters who were confused, who thought the election was canceled, who were irately tearing up their absentee ballots, and from others who vowed they were so disgusted they would never vote again.

I can’t think of a more shameful time for Democratic liberals since December of 1998 when Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and hundreds of types rallied on the Capitol steps to publicly pray — not for the Iraqi victims of the very unilateral Operation Desert Fox — but rather for the man who had just launched the bombardments, President Bill Clinton.

More prayer from these folks is now in order if they want to save the Governor’s hide. After deluding themselves with what are now two straight suspect polls in a row from the L.A. Times showing Davis just a few points behind in the recall, his supporters must now face much more somber news coming from other more serious and reliable surveys. Yes, Gray Davis has picked up ground in the past few days as he and the big-gun Democrat surrogates continue to claim that the recall is but a Republican invention. But the exhaustively thorough Public Policy Institute poll of this week shows opposition to the recall stuck at about a 42 percent ceiling. Time for Gray to pack his bags.

My liberal friends, the few who have still not yet thrown themselves off some precipice for Davis, ask me if, by supporting the recall, I am really supporting Arnold for governor. Of course not. I fully realize that a Schwarzenegger victory is the most likely outcome of a Davis defeat. But this is not a simple zero sum game. The only lesser of two evils here is not Davis versus Schwarzenegger. Here’s a better choice: Should the people of California have the unfettered right to recall and sack a totally, politically failed governor who spent his tenure coddling special interests rather than leading the state? The answer is: Yes. Yes on recall.

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