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What to Know About California’s Historic Recall Election

Gavin Newsom speaking at the California Economic Summit. (Photo Credit: California Government)

Last updated on September 2, 2021

Many Californians are aware of the coming recall election for current Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom. But why is it happening, and what is the genuine chance Newsom will be removed from office in a deep blue state?

Along with 18 other states, California gives its people the opportunity to recall officials before their term ends. The only requirement to do so is having enough signatures from at least 12% of the number of voters in the previous election in at least five different state counties. For the effort to recall Newsom, at least approximately 1.5 million signatures were required. In fact, the petition ended up receiving around 1.7 million total valid signatures. 

How did we even get to this point?

In 2018, after Newsom won the gubernatorial election by a landslide (winning 61.19% of the vote), recall campaigns began to file against Newsom. However, it wasn’t until June 2020 that a campaign successfully acquired the necessary signatures to kickstart an actual recall election. 

The petition itself doesn’t mention anything about how Newsom handled the pandemic, as it was written before it even started. Despite this, the pandemic has been a major part of fueling the recall. The pandemic prompted a judge to extend the time in which the petition could gain more votes. COVID-19 also prompted Newsom to introduce a wave of restrictions to combat the virus that frustrated many Californians and led to a push in the number of signatures. 

Arguably the largest source of signatures came in November of last year after a story of a maskless Newsom with lobbyists at French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley leaked. This caused public outrage as Newsom had encouraged Californians to wear masks and avoid socializing. This, in turn, boosted signatures on the petition and evolved the campaign from a mainly Republican effort to a more general referendum against his hypocrisy and his policies in dealing with the pandemic. This evidently rebuts Newsom’s claims that this recall campaign is solely supported by the “RNC, anti-mask and anti-vax extremists, and pro-Trump forces.”

In addition to his dealings during the pandemic, recall supporters also cite his inability to improve the state homelessness rate as well as his support of sanctuary city policies and water rationing as reasons for his recall. 

What next?

With the petition gaining the required votes for a recall vote, an election is scheduled for September 14th where voters will be asked a simple question: Do they want to recall Governor Newsom? The election is determined by a simple majority vote, so if more than 50% vote yes, the recall campaign will move towards its next phase.

From there, a second election will be held to determine the next governor. However, there’s no limit on how many candidates can be on the ballot and as of right now, there are forty-six potential candidates. To win, a candidate must receive the most total votes but is not required to gain the majority of the votes. 

In fact, it is not a far-fetched idea that California could end up with a Republican governor at the end of this process given that 24 of 46 candidates are Republicans, and conservative talk show host Larry Elder is currently leading the polls. As of September 2nd, Larry Elder has a 13.19 percent lead over the rest of the Newsom challengers. polls show the simple majority of Californians support Newsom and will vote no on the recall. According to FiveThirtyEight, 52.1% want to keep Newsom, and 43.7% want him removed. 

With less than two weeks until the recall election, political leadership on all sides are scrambling to make their last-minute pleas to the voters. And at the center of this election are the frustrations with Newsom’s controversial policies and his memorable maskless incident, all of which have empowered the necessary support for his most initial opposition.

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