California Gov. Gavin Newsom is suing the state’s top elections official in an attempt to get his affiliation with the Democratic Party on the ballot for a recall election.
According to the lawsuit, the governor’s elections lawyer did not include Newsom’s party affiliation when filing paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office 16 months ago. When Newsom’s team noticed the oversight in June, they asked Secretary of State Shirley Weber to correct the mistake.
She refused and, according to the lawsuit, “stated she cannot accept [his party preference] without a court order.”
Newsom is the target of a recall, which will likely take place in late summer or early fall. It will be California’s first gubernatorial recall election since 2003, when Gray Davis, a Democrat, was ousted and replaced by Republican movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“The Secretary of State's office has a ministerial duty to accept timely filed documents,” Weber’s office said in a statement. “Acceptance of filings beyond a deadline requires judicial resolution."
Newsom appointed Weber — a former San Diego Assemblywoman — to the Secretary of State position earlier this year to replace Alex Padilla, who is now California’s junior U.S. Senator.
“She's in a difficult position,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “Politically, we're all asking these questions: Is she too beholden to Newsom? Or is she trying too hard to show her independence?”
In another twist, Newsom himself signed the law that is now tripping up his recall campaign.
Before 2020, targets of a recall could not have their party affiliation listed next to their name on a recall ballot. A 2019 law changed that. The bill author argued at the time that voters would benefit from as much information as possible on a recall ballot.
The law had been in effect less than two months when Newsom missed his chance to declare his party affiliation.
Newsom’s campaign declined to comment.
The lawsuit, which was first reported by Courthouse News, was filed with the Sacramento County Superior Court on Monday. It notes that replacement candidates in the recall can declare their party affiliation up to 59 days before the election, while the governor’s only chance was in February 2020.
“To apply that deadline here would also lead to absurd results,” the suit reads. “The voters would be deprived of the very information the Legislature has deemed important for them to receive, all because the governor’s counsel inadvertently failed to file a form about the governor’s ballot designation at least sixteen months before the recall election has been called and long before it became clear that the recall would even qualify for the ballot.”
It also argues a date for the recall election has not been set and there is plenty of time before the ballot must be finalized.
“He thinks it matters,” Levinson said of the governor’s legal action. “He wants [to] have a party preference listed just like every other candidate. And in California for statewide office, it’s really helpful that people know you’re a Democrat.”
The recall does not have a set date, but Democrats are pushing to hold it sooner. Newsom recently signed a law that waives a 30-day period for the Legislature to review the estimated costs for a special recall election if lawmakers appropriate funding. The same law earmarked $250 million for elections officials to administer the recall.
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