It's one thing to have to prepare for the unprecedented recall election just 54 days from now.

County election officials must also deal with an extraordinary ballot: 135 candidates who want to replace Gov. Gray Davis.

California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley announced the final number of hopefuls yesterday when he certified the list of candidates to appear on the Oct. 7 recall ballot.

Despite the long list, life won't be too hectic inside the Tuolumne County Elections Office, thanks to a simple system and a good head start, said Assistant County Clerk Jackie St. George.

"Unlike many county clerks, we've been able to sleep at night," St. George said.

Since 1994, Tuolumne County has used a ballot procedure called Election Systems & Software, similar to the Scantron test sheets used in schools. Voters mark their choices on the ballots with pencils, and the votes are counted by an optical scanning machine.

These ballots can accommodate 193 names on one card more than covering the 135 candidates in the recall election.

"We are one of the fortunate counties," St. George said.

Scanning the ballots for errors before putting them through the counting machine will be much simpler with only one piece of paper to look at, St. George said, but it will still take some extra pairs of eyes.

Overvote review

Things won't be quite as simple in Calaveras County, where the 135 candidates will add a step to the vote counting process, said Elections Coordinator Debbie Smith.

The Datavote punch card system used by the county since 1983 will require multiple ballot cards to list all the would-be governors.

That means the counting machines will be unable to determine if someone has voted for more than one candidate, Smith said.

Election staff members will need to check each ballot for "overvotes," she said. They already review ballots for damage before the machine count.

Now, she said, "they will have to look a little more closely than they normally do."

Work on the recall election has already begun in Calaveras County, and Smith said the ballots will be ready for Oct. 7.

Statewide, the special election will cost anywhere from $42 million to $66 million, according to the Secretary of State's office. Locally, it will cost Tuolumne and Calaveras counties each between $50,000 and $70,000, election officials said.

Both counties plan to hire additional staff to handle the workload, because it's not just the recall. Special district elections are in November and candidate-signature filings for March's primary start arriving in September.

"We have to be working on all of that at the same time," St. George said.

Avoiding confusion

When it comes to the actual election, the foothills have it pretty easy.

Because both counties are in a single Assembly district District 25 election officials will avoid one of the hassles that will plague other parts of the state.

Counties that have multiple assembly districts have to use different ballots for each district to help keep the order of candidates random.

Because surveys have shown that those who appear first on ballot lists have an advantage, lists in each assembly district vary.

Polling locations won't change for the recall election in either county. Wherever people voted in the last regular election is where they will vote in October.

The large ballot should not create confusion for Tuolumne County voters because the entire ballot will only consist of one card, St. George said.

With so many candidates, voters will have an easier time in the ballot box if they review sample ballots beforehand, Smith said.

"Locating their candidate might be a little time consuming for them," Smith said.

Although some pundits have predicted a ballot mess similar to the 2000 presidential election in Florida, voters say they are up to the task.

"I know people are complaining about it, but all you have to do is look and read," said Loyd Gage, who plans on voting in the special election.

"Common sense will tell you how to use (the ballot)," said Gage, who vacations every summer in Tuolumne County. "You don't have to be an Einstein to use them."

Ruth Pedro said she plans to make the voting process easier by preparing in advance.

"To me, it won't really matter because I'll probably have my mind made up at the time," she said.

Still, Pedro, a Sonora resident and regular voter, expressed some concerns with the size of the ballot.

"It is a little overwhelming," she said.