SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In one month, Californians will vote in what could prove itself the state’s most consequential election in decades.
Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, faces a potential recall, a vote on which is scheduled to take place on Sept. 14.
Whisperings of a possible recall began gaining steam as Californians witnessed Newsom’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic in real time, with a petition to do so receiving the state’s requisite 1.5 million signatures to qualify for ballot access within a span of slightly over a year.
While the recall effort was initially viewed as a long shot, the traction that it has gained over the past several months has left many mainstream media outlets with little choice but to acknowledge the recall election for what it is: competitive.
Following renewed public interest in the effort, here are a few key take-aways from what we’ve seen of it thus far:
1. How the recall system works.
Perhaps most integral in understanding what is going on in California is how the gubernatorial recall system works in the first place.
First, recall proponents need to collect a certain number of signatures in accordance with a threshold set by the state — as was previously mentioned, this number is around 1.5 million. Per the California Secretary of State’s office:
To qualify a recall of the Governor for the ballot, proponents need a minimum of 1,495,709 valid petition signatures. This is equal to 12 percent of the votes cast for the office of Governor in 2018, which is the last time the office was on the ballot. Signatures from at least 5 counties must each equal 1 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last election for Governor in the county. (Cal. Const., art. II, § 14(b)) The total number of votes cast for Governor in the 2018 election was 12,464,235.
Should this threshold be reached, the recall makes it onto the ballot.
Ballot measures pertaining to the recall come twofold: the first is a simple yes/no vote on the recall. Should a simple majority of voters oppose the recall, the effort dies and Newsom stays in office.
Should they favor the recall, the second question on the ballot — who Newsom’s replacement should be — comes into play. The candidate receiving a plurality of votes is elected governor and assumes the office following Newsom’s removal.
2. Polls have been inconsistent, but have recently fluctuated to Newsom’s detriment.
As is the case with a lot of elections, the polls are all over the place. Earlier this year, you’d have been hard-pressed to find one that gauged support for the recall being above 40 percent. However, polls have tightened, with support consistently hovering between 40 and 50 percent, and several polls have come within the margin of error.
Until last week, there had been no new polls of the recall election in about a month. But since then, we’ve gotten two — and both showed Newsom in danger of being recalled. First, an Emerson College/Nexstar Media survey found that 48 percent of registered voters in California wanted to keep Newsom in office, while 43 percent wanted to recall him. Then, a poll from the University of California, Berkeley, Institute of Governmental Studies co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times found that 50 percent of likely recall voters wanted to keep Newsom and 47 percent wanted to oust him. These fresh polls — both within the margin of error — differed markedly from a handful of surveys released in May and June that found the recall effort trailing by at least 10 percentage points.
This is especially interesting given California’s status as an electoral bulwark for the Democratic Party. Doubly interesting is polls’ tendency to skew to the left of elections’ actual results in recent years — meaning that support for the recall could very well be greater than poll results have let on thus far — however, all we can do is wait and see.
3. The field of potential replacement candidates runs the gamut — but there are a few front-runners.
Republican candidates include conservative commentator Larry Elder, Olympian-turned reality TV personality Caitlyn Jenner, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, former U.S. Representative Doug Ose, and businessman and 2018 gubernatorial nominee John Cox. Elder has enjoyed substantial polling leads since his campaign’s launch last month.
Meanwhile, real estate broker and internet personality Kevin Paffrath leads among Democrats.
However, bear in mind that there is no nominating process for either party — and unlike the “jungle primary” system used in California and other states, a candidate must only garner a plurality of the vote in order to be declared the victor.
4. Democrats have yet to present a legitimate case against the recall.
Democrats, including Newsom, have referred to the effort as a “Republican recall,” with the governor characterizing it as a partisan power grab by Trump loyalists.
stoptherepublicanrecall.com, sponsored in part by the California Democratic Party, openly tries to link the recall effort to QAnon and COVID denial, completely devoid of evidence in the pursuit of framing the left’s favorite boogeymen.
Meanwhile, a New York Times Op-Ed tries to make the case that the recall is actually unconstitutional:
The most basic principles of democracy are that the candidate who gets the most votes is elected and that every voter gets an equal say in an election’s outcome. The California system for voting in a recall election violates these principles and should be declared unconstitutional.
Unless that happens, on Sept. 14, voters will be asked to cast a ballot on two questions: Should Gov. Gavin Newsom be recalled and removed from office? If so, which of the candidates on the ballot should replace him?
The first question is decided by a majority vote. If a majority favors recalling Mr. Newsom, he is removed from office. But the latter question is decided by a plurality, and whichever candidate gets the most votes, even if it is much less than a majority, becomes the next governor.
By conducting the recall election in this way, Mr. Newsom can receive far more votes than any other candidate but still be removed from office. Many focus on how unfair this structure is to the governor, but consider instead how unfair it is to the voters who support him.
This is not just nonsensical and undemocratic. It is unconstitutional. It violates a core constitutional principle that has been followed for over 60 years: Every voter should have an equal ability to influence the outcome of the election.
The “core constitutional principle” the recall system violates, the author opines, is the one-person one-vote standard that has dictated federal election law since the mid-twentieth century.
Of course, this is bunk; votes aren’t weighted at all in the recall, which, effectively being a referendum, is about as purely democratic by nature as one can get. The idea that Newsom’s ouster would somehow be the doing of an unfair voting system has zero basis in reality.
Needless to say, Democrats are nervous. After all, the recall, once a Republican pipe dream in the royal-blue Golden State, may actually be something that happens — so they may well be justified in feeling that way.
However, only time will tell.
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