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Recall Takeaways


Last updated 9/28/2021 at 2:39pm

It was a highly anticipated recall election that many took part in. The 2021 California gubernatorial recall election, deciding whether or not to remove Gavin Newsom as governor, three years into his first term, took place on Sept. 14.

In a landslide, Governor Gavin Newsom surviving the effort to remove him from office, beating out front-runner candidate Larry Elder (R), 62.7% to 37.3%. Results will be certified on Oct. 22.

Newsom said on election night from Sacramento, he thanked all for rejecting the recall, and said that while people voted “no,” that vote meant they said, “yes to science, yes to vaccines ... yes to ending this pandemic.”

This, more than any lesson coming out of California, is the most likely to permeate other elections later this year and in 2022 – helping back up those who have pushed strict coronavirus measures to curb the ongoing spread of the Delta variant in the face of a small but vocal opposition.

Newsom staked his campaign on his stringent COVID measures, using them to attack Elder as lax on the pandemic, contrasting himself with Republican governors in Texas and Florida and running fully alongside the new vaccine requirements that President Joe Biden announced just days before Election Day.

Could a 2022 Newsom vs. Elder race be in the future?

Elder, leading Republican candidate, acknowledged his defeat of the recall, even hinting at another run next year, in California’s normally scheduled governor’s race.

“Let’s be gracious in defeat.” He added: “By the way, we may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war.”

Forty-six candidates, including nine Democrats and 24 Republicans, ran in the election.

This is only the fourth gubernatorial recall election in U.S. history. Only one governor was successfully recalled: Governor Gray Davis (D) was ousted in 2003 and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). In that recall, 55 percent of voters said they wanted to recall Davis, and Schwarzenegger won the seat with 48 percent of the vote over more than 100 other candidates.

Like any statewide election, eligible Californians were able to cast a vote. All California active registered voters received a vote-by-mail ballot for recall election.

The recall ballot asked two questions:

1. Do you want to recall Governor Newsom? and;

2. If the governor is recalled, who do you want to replace him? (In this question, voters were asked to select from a list of candidates who they would like to replace Newsom).

If a majority voted NO on the first question to recalling Newsom, then he will remain in office and the results of the second question does not matter. However, Californians were able to still vote on the second question, or leave it blank.

If a majority voted YES that they want to remove Newsom, then whoever got the most votes on the second question wins and becomes governor, even if they only received a fraction of the vote.

A recall was launched against Newsom last year with many frustrated over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and his regulations and rules over businesses, as well as not doing enough to address the state’s homelessness rate, and supported sanctuary city policies and water rationing.

One of the major turning points for the recall came when Newsom attended a dinner in Napa Valley during the time he urged Californians to stay home and avoid large gatherings. He later apologized, however, it was shown as hypocritical and a key point.

A judge gave organizers four more months to collect signatures because of the pandemic restrictions, in which succeeded. They managed to gather nearly 1.5 million valid petition signatures to qualify. This recall election comes just a year before he planned to run for reelection.

In a March 2021 response, Newsom called the effort a “Republican recall — backed by the RNC, anti-mask and anti-vax extremists, and pro-Trump forces who want to overturn the last election and have opposed much of what we have done to fight the pandemic.”

Many were up in arms about the recall election, including the price tag of $276 million, according to the state’s Department of Finance.

Ultimately, the state’s odd laws allowed for an election that wasn’t close to be held, at enormous expense, just 14 months before Newsom would have been on the ballot for reelection anyway.

Along the way, it prompted calls to reform the recall process, which can be triggered through a petition signed by 12% of the voter turnout of the state’s last gubernatorial election, for any reason.

California Assembly Speaker Pro Temp Kevin Mullin said reforms should include elevating the lieutenant governor to the state’s chief executive position if a governor is successfully recalled, rather than having voters choose a replacement on the same ballot.

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