Updated March 31
The signatures are in — organizers behind a push to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom say they’ve submitted more than enough names to force an election to potentially oust the governor.
If it qualifies for the ballot, the election would be California’s first gubernatorial recall in nearly two decades and is sure to be an expensive one. Here’s what you need to know about the effort to recall and replace Newsom.
What is a recall and how does it work?
California is one of 20 states that allow voters to recall their governor. The last time this happened in California was in 2003, when Gov. Gray Davis was recalled and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
To put a gubernatorial recall on the ballot, organizers must collect signatures equal to 12% of votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election — that means they need at least 1,495,709 signatures from registered voters.
If a recall qualifies for the ballot, a special recall election will be held. Voters will be asked two questions:
- Should the elected official be removed from office?
- If the official is removed, who should take their place?
If more than 50% of voters answer “yes” to the first question, Newsom will be recalled, and the candidate who wins the most votes will replace him. A governor who is the subject of a recall cannot run as their own replacement. That means if a majority of Californians vote to recall Newsom, he will be removed from office — even if no replacement candidate receives more than 50% of the vote.
Why is Newsom being recalled?
Organizers of the current recall movement say there are a list of reasons Californians signed their petitions: frustration over Newsom’s handling of the pandemic and business restrictions, worsening housing and homelessness crises, high taxes and cost of living, and more.
“This is about Gavin Newsom and his failed policies that have put us in the state of despair we are in today,” said Orrin Heatlie, the main proponent of the recall effort.
How is Newsom responding to the recall?
Newsom has painted the recall movement as driven by political extremists, anti-vaccine activists, and national GOP figures who despise California politics. He’s launched a campaign to fend off the challenge, which he’s branded “the Republican recall.”
But this isn’t the first time Newsom’s critics have tried to recall him — many elected officials in the Golden State face recall petitions, though they rarely make it to the ballot.
In fact, six separate recall papers have been filed against Newsom since he took office in 2019.
So what makes this recall different?
Recall organizers got approval from the state to begin gathering signatures in June 2020. They initially got 160 days to do that, which means they would have been required to turn all their petitions in by mid-November.
Proponents had hoped to spend last summer gathering signatures at festivals and other large events. But, as they told a Sacramento Superior Court judge, that became difficult to do when COVID-19 struck.
The judge granted the campaign a 120-day extension of their original signature-gathering deadline. That gave them plenty of extra time to organize and collect voter signatures.
Political observers point out that the deadline extension came in November, around the time Newsom received enormous backlash for attending a group dinner at the French Laundry, a posh Napa Valley restaurant, while urging Californians not to gather with people outside their household.
When will we know if there will be a recall? And when would we vote on it?
Organizers of the current recall effort say they turned in a total of 2,117,730 signatures — well above the threshold of nearly 1.5 million — by the March 17 deadline. County election officials have until April 29 to verify those signatures — meaning we should find out by the end of April if a special recall election will be heading to the ballot.
If there is a recall, campaign experts with California Target Book say it would likely take place later this fall, in November or December (see more on this below).
A handful of Republican candidates have already announced their intention to run. They include former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, businessman Jon Cox and former Rep. Doug Ose.
If the recall qualifies for the ballot, there will likely be many, many more candidates — in 2003, the ballot listed a total of 135 gubernatorial hopefuls.
Who’s supporting the recall and who’s against it?
A number of groups and individuals have already donated money toward either supporting or opposing the recall, or issued public statements about it. Here’s a look at where things stand:
Supporting the recall:
- Republican National Committee, which spent $250,000 encouraging people to sign the recall petition.
- California Republican Party, which has so far donated more than $175,000 to recall groups.
- GOP figures including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has donated $100,000 through his PAC
- Former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya donated $100,000 to recall groups and briefly considered jumping into the race himself
Opposing the recall:
- President Joe Biden
- A coalition of national Democratic figures including Sens. Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Georgia organizer Stacey Abrams added their names early on to a campaign fighting the recall.
- The California Democratic Party dropped more than $500,000 into the campaign during its first week.
- Labor icon Dolores Huerta and labor groups including the National Union of Healthcare Workers say they oppose the recall.
Campaign finance data comes from Cal-Access.
Although Los Angeles County has collected the most signatures at 181,846, the most per capita come from counties in the Sierra Foothills and Northern California, with Amador County receiving the highest at 10.8 signatures per 100 residents.
Polls suggest a majority of California voters want to keep Newsom in office, though voters are deeply divided along partisan lines. The Public Policy Institute of California’s March survey found 56% of likely voters would support Newsom in a recall election, while 40% would vote to recall him.
According to an analysis by PPIC president Mark Baldassare, those numbers square with the state’s political makeup. An overwhelming majority of Republican voters — 79% — would vote to recall Newsom compared to 79% of Democratic voters who would vote to keep the governor.
County election officials are verifying the signatures submitted by recall organizers to make sure they belong to registered voters and there aren’t any duplicates.
According to the most recent validation report from the Secretary of State’s office, county election officials have verified 1,188,073 of 1,454,710 signatures so far, for a validation rate of 81.6%.
Election officials must verify all the submitted signatures by April 29 — which means we should know by the end of April whether the recall election will go to the ballot. But there are a few things that need to happen before the signatures can be certified and a special election called.
If enough signatures are verified to hold a recall election, state law allows a period of time for people who signed the recall petition to remove their name if they wish. After that, there is a period for the Department of Finance and the Joint Legislative Budget Committee to estimate and review the costs of a special recall election.
Following that, the Secretary of State will certify the recall and the Lieutenant Governor will call a special election to put the questions before voters. California Target Book estimates that based on the deadlines, that election would likely take place between Nov. 15 and Dec. 5.
Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified what office would call the recall special election once it's certified. That is the Lieutenant Governor.
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