The California recall is finally upon us. What began as a wish several years ago in the minds of organizers has resulted in the state’s largest grassroots campaign working to unseat the most controversial governor in recent memory.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s political life hinges on his handling of the pandemic, economy, homelessness, and crime, four issues in which the Golden State has lingered near dead last.
“The best description of California is some Third World country after decades of civil war,” said Carl DeMaio, one of the recall organizers and founder of the PAC Reform California. “Power is out, we don’t have water, fires are raging everywhere, people are living in the streets, and criminal warlords run the show. We have the highest taxes. By every measure, it is the worst state to live in.”
Newsom’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Here are answers to eight pressing questions about the recall:
1. Who is behind the recall?
Republicans began efforts to recall Newsom after his election in 2018. However, this failed to gather steam until the pandemic hit. At that point, several grassroots groups banded together to collect signatures to qualify the recall for the ballot. Several high-profile Democrats have joined the effort, such as Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and former Senate leader Gloria Romero.
2. How does the recall work?
State law allows for a recall election if 12% of valid registered voters from the last governor’s election have signed a petition. In this case, 1,495,709 were needed. The Legislature sets the date, and ballots are mailed to all registered voters, or they can cast ballots in person. Voters are asked, “Shall Gavin Newsom be recalled?” If the answer is yes, voters are asked to choose a candidate listed below. Whoever has the most votes is the winner.
3. Is anyone interesting on the ballot?
The front-runners among the candidates are all Republicans: syndicated radio host Larry Elder, Olympic champion-turned-reality television star Caitlyn Jenner, California Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, businessman John Cox, and former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. Elder has a sizable lead over the slate of 46 candidates.
4. Has a recall ever succeeded?
Yes. Despite 55 attempts, only Hollywood action hero and centrist Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was successful. He was elected in 2003 to unseat Democrat Gray Davis. Voters were angered over an additional tax placed on gasoline.
5. What are the biggest reasons for the recall?
After the pandemic hit, Newsom shut the state down, targeting businesses, schools, and beaches in one of the most draconian lockdowns in the country. Reopenings hinged on meeting infection levels and hospital occupancy rates on a slow-moving color-coded tier system. The shutdown lasted a year, causing an exodus to other states by businesses and residents, many of whom said they moved because their children were missing too much school. In addition, Califonia was among the slowest states to have a vaccine rollout for the general public, and when the state slid back into a level of lockdown again earlier this year, voters had enough.
During the shutdown, news reports showed that Newsom and his wife dined with lobbyists at a tony Napa Valley restaurant, French Laundry. The diners were not social distancing or wearing masks — two directives from the Newsom administration.
In addition, his four children attended in-person private schools while beleaguered parents battled school boards and teacher unions over an indefinite public education hiatus.
6. Will this really work? What do the polls say?
Organizers are cautiously optimistic, saying this is a multiparty effort with supporters and volunteers from all ethnicities and occupations. Newsom’s popularity was tanking earlier in the year. Then, polls through the summer that asked whether people supported the recall hovered around 50%. In recent weeks, Newsom has surged ahead to a 16-point lead at 58%.
DeMaio pointed to the erroneous polls when President Donald Trump was elected, saying he thinks the “polls are wildly off.”
7. How can I find out online who won?
Polls close at 8 p.m. PDT. Approximately 30 minutes later, the state secretary of state should have preliminary results posted online here. Counting will continue throughout the night and the following day by each county, which submits the results to the state and also posts them locally. Winners are not usually announced the same night.
8. If Newsom is recalled, when does the new governor take office?
The Secretary of State's Office said it has 38 days to certify the election and on that day will give an oath of office. The winner will serve the remainder of Newsom’s term.
9. Is voter fraud a concern?
Recall organizer Orrin Heatlie is monitoring all aspects of the election and said he is prepared to file lawsuits if his team finds fraud. Of particular concern is a new online ballot-printing option.
Judicial Watch attempted to combat fraud by suing the state and Los Angeles County over 1.5 million people who were still on the rolls even though they had died, moved, or were ineligible to vote. The defendants settled the case last year but have yet to clean up the voter rolls.
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