What you need to know about the California recall

What you need to know about the California recall
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The Republican-backed effort to recall Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom is now in its final phase as ballots arrive in the mailboxes of every registered California voter for the September 14 special election.

The grassroots effort to oust Newsom, who was elected in 2018, was launched last year by a group of conservative Californians critical of the Democratic governor’s record on immigration, taxes, the death penalty and the state’s homelessness crisis, among other issues.

But their quest to collect enough signature petitions to force a recall election took off late last year amid anger about Newsom’s Covid-19 stay-at-home orders and other restrictions. And while the governor appeared to be in a strong position to withstand the effort for much of this year, the resurgence of the pandemic and frustration with the state’s wildfire, drought and homelessness crises has injected an unexpected level of volatility into the race in an overwhelmingly blue state.

How does the recall work?

Voters will be asked just two questions on the recall ballot: First, “yes” or “no” on whether they want to recall Newsom. Second, they will be asked to select from a list of candidates from all parties who wish to replace him. Forty-six contenders have qualified for the ballot, but there is no well-known Democrat vying to replace him. (Newsom is not allowed to run as a replacement candidate).

If a majority vote “yes” on the first question, Newsom is removed from office and the top candidate on the second question takes over, even if that person receives only a fraction of the vote. If a majority votes against recalling Newsom, he keeps his job and the results of the second question are irrelevant. There are no other initiatives or referenda on the ballot.

When would a new governor take office if Newsom is recalled?

County officials have up to 30 days after the election to finish tallying the vote count. If the recall of Newsom is successful, the secretary of state would certify the results on the 38th day after the election and the new governor would take the oath of office.

The new governor would serve the remainder of Newsom’s term through January 2, 2023. The state’s recall mechanism has been part of the law since 1911. But in that time, only one governor was successfully recalled: Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was ousted in 2003 and replaced by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Who’s running to replace Newsom?

The most prominent candidates vying to replace Newsom are Republicans, but most were so little known that rank-and-file Republican voters often had trouble naming them in interviews with CNN for much of this year.

That changed when conservative talk radio host Larry Elder made a late entry into the field in July. He now appears to be galvanizing Republican support around his candidacy. Other notable GOP contenders include former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, businessman John Cox (who lost to Newsom by a wide margin in 2018), state Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, and reality TV star and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner.

There are nine Democrats listed among the replacement candidates, but Newsom and the California Democratic Party are urging opponents of the recall to vote “no” on the first question and skip the second question altogether.

Why is this recall happening now?

The recall gathered steam late last year at a time when many Californians were frustrated with Newsom’s restrictive response to the pandemic and what some viewed as erratic rules and regulations for businesses and restaurants. The major turning point for recall organizers came in November when Newsom attended a friend’s birthday party at a lavish French restaurant in Napa Valley at a time when he was urging Californians to stay home and avoid large gatherings with multiple households. Newsom apologized, calling the dinner “a bad mistake,” but it was widely perceived as hypocritical and grossly out of touch when many Californians were struggling.

Both fundraising and signature petition-gathering accelerated for recall proponents, who had to gather 1,495,709 valid petition signatures to qualify (the equivalent of 12% of the votes cast for the office of governor in 2018).

At that opportune time for Republicans in mid-November, a judge extended the deadline for recall supporters to collect signatures by four months. Ultimately, they easily surpassed the total needed for the recall to qualify.

After a series of procedural steps — including the verification of the signatures on the petitions by county election officials — the state’s lieutenant governor called the election for September 14. The state’s Department of Finance has estimated the cost will be $276 million.

In a blue state like California, why are people saying this election could be close?

Democrats outnumber Republicans in California by almost two-to-one and Newsom won the governor’s office in 2018 with 62% of the vote. But Democrats’ biggest obstacle right now is apathy among their voters.

For months, polls have shown that most of the excitement and enthusiasm is on the Republican side among voters who want to recall Newsom.

Democrats are now racing to get their voters to commit to return their ballots through a blitz of telephone calls, texts and door-to-door canvassing.

But the enthusiasm gap is surfacing in the most recent polling. Only 52% of likely voters said they planned to vote “no” on ousting Newsom in a new CBS News/YouGov poll, while 48% said they would vote “yes” — making it a race that is well within the margin of error. The poll also found that 72% of Republican registered voters said they were “very motivated to vote” compared with 61% of Democrats. (Newsom appeared to be on much safer ground back in May when the statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found that nearly six in ten likely voters said they would vote to keep him in office).

How is Newsom fighting the recall?

Newsom has long said that he understands Californians’ frustrations as the pandemic drags on, but he argues that his administration followed science and “moved aggressively to save lives and help those hardest hit.” In that same CBS News/YouGov poll, 60% of Californians said Newsom’s “handling of the outbreak” was either “very good” or “somewhat good,” underscoring that his biggest political hurdle is lack of enthusiasm rather than public opinion.

He has touted the state’s vaccination rate — about 55% of California residents are fully vaccinated — and he has directed part of the state’s $75.7 billion budget surplus toward stimulus checks to lower and middle-class residents if they had not received an earlier check from the state.

Newsom and his allies have portrayed the recall as one driven by political zealots who support former President Donald Trump’s agenda. In his latest ad, Newsom’s well-funded effort characterizes the September 14 election as “a matter of life and death,” targeting the opposition among his Republican rivals to vaccine and mask mandates.

How can Californians vote in the recall?

California voters can return their ballots via the United States Postal Service or any official vote-by-mail drop box, or drop them off at any participating vote center in certain counties. No postage is necessary, but voters must sign the back of the vote-by-mail envelope. Ballots returned by mail must be postmarked on or before Election Day and be received by county election officials by September 21. Californians also have the option to vote, or register, in person either early or on Election Day. While dates, times and locations for early voting vary by county, polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. PST on Election Day.

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