If you are an eligible California voter, you’ll be getting something you don’t see every day in the mail — in fact, practically never — your very own recall mail-in ballot. If you didn’t, it’s coming very soon.
This is not just any ballot, because this is not just any election. It’s a chance to do — or stop — something that’s only succeeded once before in California history, despite the 55 times it’s been tried: Recall a sitting governor.
At its core: Whether or not voters want to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom — and, if so, who would replace him.
Many folks are confused about how this all works, so here’s a user’s guide to the recall:
Q: What is this recall thing and how’d we get here?
A: Recalls are outlined in the state’s Constitution — going back to ancient history — 1911 — when they were baked into the law. If you’re keeping score, check out Article II, Sect. 13-19. The bottom line: It’s a tool for voters to boot an elected local or state elected office-holder before their term ends.
Even with all the recall rhetoric about why recall backers want a recall, it turns out you don’t technically need a reason to get one on the ballot. What you do need is a lot of valid signatures on a petition to recall the governor — a number equal to 12 percent of the votes cast for the governor the last time the office was on the ballot. In this case, that was 2018, when Newsom scored a resounding victory. But so did recall backers, when they got at least 1,495,709 valid signers, from at least five counties equal to 1% of the total number of votes cast for the governor — which was 12,464,235.
In fact, they notched more than 1.1 million signatures by mid-January — fueled by frustration (over homelessness, taxes, pandemic fueled stay-home orders, a problem-riddled Employment Development Department and closed schools during the pandemic.)
By late June, the state’s Secretary of State certified the signatures, all 1,719,900 determined to be valid, even after giving 30 business days, by law, to allow petition signatories to remove their names.
The Recall Rumble was on.
Q: How do I vote?
The official Election Day is Sept. 14, but voting is more complicated than that. Check out the dates below.
If you’re a registered voter, there’s a chance you’ve already gotten your mail-in ballot, which all California counties are sending to registered voters by Aug. 16. Head over to registertovote.ca.gov if you want more information on registering. Your local county elections office should also have robust information.
Also, you’re going to be getting some helpful voter information guides in the mail — one from the state and one from your county.
The ballot itself will be different from those voter guides. The ballot is what you need to mail, postmarked on or before Sept 14. It’s got to get to your local county elections office no later than seven days after Election Day.
Here’s a quick recall deadline schedule, courtesy of the Secretary of State’s Office:
- Aug. 30: Deadline to register to vote
- Aug. 31-Sep 14: Conditional voter registration (for people missed their registration deadlines or who need to update their voter registration)
- Sept. 11-13: Early voting period
- Sept. 14: Your ballot must be postmarked by this date
- Sept. 21: Your ballot must be received by your county registrar of voters by this date
Not sure if you are registered? Check your voter registration status online at https://voterstatus.sos.ca.gov/.
Q: Concerned about the mail service? What if I want to drop off your ballot or vote in person?
A: All counties will offer in-person voting on Sept. 14 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. A list of polling centers and dropoff spots will be on your voter information guide or on the website of your registrar voters.
Here’s where to check information from your county elections office:
–Los Angeles County: www.lavote.net
–Orange County: email@example.com
–Riverside County: www.voteinfo.net
–San Bernardino County: www.sbcountyelections.com
You can also ask someone you trust to return your ballot for you, as long as they do not get paid on a per-ballot basis, according to the Secretary of State.
Q: How can I ensure my ballot is counted?
You can track your ballot through an online tool on the Secretary of State’s office, called Where’s My Ballot? You’ll be able to track and receive notifications on the status of your vote-by-mail ballot at each stop on its way to being counted. You can sign up at WheresMyBallot.sos.ca.gov to receive an automatic email, SMS (text), or voice call notifications about your ballot.
You can also go to “My Voter Status” to find out if your vote was counted. If not, you can find out why not through voterstatus.sos.ca.gov.
Q: How does the recall work?
A: The ballot includes two questions:
Question one: “Shall GAVIN NEWSOM be recalled (removed) from the office of Governor?” If more than 50% vote no, end of story: Newsom returns to office.
If more than 50% vote yes, Newsom is removed from office.
Question two: If Newsom is ousted, who should replace him?
If the recall passes, the candidate who gets the most votes becomes governor. The winning candidate would take over as governor on the 38th day after the election, which would be in late October. The governor — whether Newsom of his newly elected replacement — will serve the remainder of the term, which ends on Jan. 2, 2023.
You’re going to have 46 choices, from a conservative radio talk show host to a former San Diego mayor to a libertarian and even a handful of lesser-known Democrats. There are also a couple of Green Party candidates, and there’s Angelyne.
Because there are so many candidates running, Newsom’s replacement could be elected with just a fraction of the votes. The winner could get 25% — or even less.
Q: Does this recall actually stand a chance?
A: Yes. Recent polling of registered voters suggests Newsom’s job is likely secure. But polling of likely voters, who are identified by pollsters using everything from voting history to how closely a person has been following the race, presents a different picture, with proponents and opponents almost evenly split. Most Republicans support the recall, while most Democrats oppose the recall.
But while there are about twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans, polling suggests Republicans are more fired up to vote than Democrats. If registered Democrats turn out en masse, Newsom is likely safe.
But if they don’t and Republicans do, well, he could be toast. As of February, 24.1% of the state’s 22.15 million registered voters were Republican, while 46.2% were Democratic and 23.7% stated no party preference.
Q: If Newsom does lose, who is likely to replace him?
A: Many voters remain undecided on the second question.
But some recent polling puts conservative talk radio host Larry Elder at the front of the field of contenders.
One poll suggested Democrat Kevin Paffrath, a Ventura real estate investor with a massive YouTube following and no major political experience, could be a frontrunner.
Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer is also in the running, as is businessman John Cox, who ran and lost against Newsom in 2018.
Not polling particularly well despite significant name recognition? Reality star Caitlyn Jenner.
Q: Why should I vote?
A: Special elections aren’t exactly barn-burners when it comes to election turnout.
Traditionally, special elections spark higher Republican turnout — and that’s got local Democrats scrambling to convince their voters to vote.
This election, however, will have consequences that impact the entire state.
Let’s say Newsom wins and stays in office. If he wins resoundingly, expect more of the same in terms of policy approach from the Democrat, experts say, adding that it might in fact embolden him. Not to mention, it will deflate the hopes of conservatives, who are swimming upstream in a blue state, and in a Legislature dominated by Democrats. Newsom would have “the wind at his back” heading into the 2022 gubernatorial election.
“If it’s nip and tuck but he retains his hold then he might become a bit more hesitant and a bit more moderate on some policy issues,” said Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State Los Angeles. It might also prompt him to moderate his tone going into the actual 2022 election. “But on the whole, if he remains, it’s not going to change a whole lot.”
On the other hand, if Newsom is recalled, and a Republican challenger parachutes in, expect more policy battles and tussles in Sacramento, Regalado said. You could have a GOP governor with veto power in a blue state in which the Legislature is dominated by Democrats.
It’s a recipe for “lots of stalemates and veto overrides,” Regalado said.
There’s also the remote possibility that U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein decides to call it quits next year as the state’s senior senator. If that happens, a Republican governor would likely pick a Republican to take her place until her term ends — in January 2025. (However: Feinstein, at 88, says she has no plans to hang it up this term, despite calls to do so.)
Speaking of ending terms… If someone ends up taking Newsom’s place through a recall, that person will be up for re-election in 2022, and up against a potential cadre of Democratic challengers hungry for the seat and fueled by a re-awakened base of voters re-energized after losing a recall. But — and it’s a big but — whoever wins the recall could move to the left to pull in more left-leaning voters. If that happens, there’s a remote chance that the recall winner could win next year.
Either way, if the recall does oust Newsom, it could fuel a recall flurry across the country.
“It’s going to give a boon to what’s becoming a juggernaut, a snowball,” Relgalado said.