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There Are Enough Signatures To Trigger A Recall Of Gov. Gavin Newsom. Here's What You Need To Know.

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Renée C. Byer
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The Sacramento Bee via AP, Pool, File
In this Oct 29, 2020, file photo, California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to reporters at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Calif. Gov. Newsom is facing a possible recall election as the state struggles to emerge from the coronavirus crisis.

Updated April 26

The signatures are in — the California Secretary of State says there are more than enough valid signatures to trigger a recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom

The election would be California’s first gubernatorial recall in nearly two decades and is sure to be an expensive one. Here’s what you need to know about the effort to recall and replace Newsom.

The recall has enough signatures. What can we expect next?

As of April 26, County election officials have verified 1,626,042 signatures— more than enough to put a recall on the ballot. But a few things need to happen before an election is called.

Here’s a breakdown of the timeline:

  • The Secretary of State has 10 business days to notify counties that there are enough valid signatures to put the recall before voters
  • Anyone who signed a recall petition then has 30 business days to withdraw their signature if they wish (this period started April 26 and ends June 8).
  • At the end of the withdrawal period, county officials have 10 business days to let the Secretary of State know how many signatures were withdrawn. They must report back by June 22.
  • If there are still at least 1,495,709 valid signatures after the withdrawal period, the Secretary of State must “promptly” notify the Department of Finance, which then has 30 business days to estimate the cost of a recall election.
  • After that, the Legislature has 30 calendar days to comment on the estimated cost.
  • Only after that period can the Secretary of State certify the signatures. Then the Lt. Governor can call a recall election.

California Target Book estimates that based on the deadlines, a recall election would likely take place between Nov. 15 and Dec. 5.

What is a recall anyway, and how does it work?

California is one of 20 states that allow voters to recall their governor. The last time this happened in California was in 2003, when Gov. Gray Davis was recalled and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

To put a gubernatorial recall on the ballot, organizers must collect signatures equal to 12% of votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election — that means they need at least 1,495,709 signatures from registered voters.

If a recall qualifies for the ballot, a special recall election will be held. Voters will be asked two questions:

  • Should the elected official be removed from office?
  • If the official is removed, who should take their place?

If more than 50% of voters answer “yes” to the first question, Newsom will be recalled, and the candidate who wins the most votes will replace him. A governor who is the subject of a recall cannot run as their own replacement. That means if a majority of Californians vote to recall Newsom, he will be removed from office — even if no replacement candidate receives more than 50% of the vote.

Why is Newsom being recalled?

Organizers of the current recall movement say there are a list of reasons Californians signed their petitions: frustration over Newsom’s handling of the pandemic and business restrictions, worsening housing and homelessness crises, high taxes and cost of living, and more.

“This is about Gavin Newsom and his failed policies that have put us in the state of despair we are in today,” said Orrin Heatlie, the main proponent of the recall effort.

How is Newsom responding to the recall?

Newsom has painted the recall movement as driven by political extremists, anti-vaccine activists, and national GOP figures who despise California politics. He’s launched a campaign to fend off the challenge, which he’s branded “the Republican recall.”

But this isn’t the first time Newsom’s critics have tried to recall him — many elected officials in the Golden State face recall petitions, though they rarely make it to the ballot.

In fact, six separate recall papers have been filed against Newsom since he took office in 2019.

So what makes this recall different?

Recall organizers got approval from the state to begin gathering signatures in June 2020. They initially got 160 days to do that, which means they would have been required to turn all their petitions in by mid-November.

Proponents had hoped to spend last summer gathering signatures at festivals and other large events. But, as they told a Sacramento Superior Court judge, that became difficult to do when COVID-19 struck.

The judge granted the campaign a 120-day extension of their original signature-gathering deadline. That gave them plenty of extra time to organize and collect voter signatures.

Political observers point out that the deadline extension came in November, around the time Newsom received enormous backlash for attending a group dinner at the French Laundry, a posh Napa Valley restaurant while urging Californians not to gather with people outside their household.

Who’s running?

On April 23, gold medal Olympian and transgender rights advocate Caitlyn Jenner announced her intention to run. Jenner, a Republican, would join a crowded field of GOP candidates that includes former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, businessman Jon Cox and former Rep. Doug Ose.

There will likely be many, many more candidates — in 2003, the ballot listed a total of 135 gubernatorial hopefuls.

Who’s supporting the recall and who’s against it?

A number of groups and individuals have already donated money toward either supporting or opposing the recall, or issued public statements about it. Here’s a look at where things stand:

Supporting the recall:

  • Republican National Committee, which spent $250,000 encouraging people to sign the recall petition.
  • California Republican Party, which has so far donated more than $175,000 to recall groups.
  • GOP figures including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has donated $100,000 through his PAC
  • Former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya donated $100,000 to recall groups and briefly considered jumping into the race himself

Opposing the recall:

  • President Joe Biden
  • A coalition of national Democratic figures including Sens. Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Georgia organizer Stacey Abrams added their names early on to a campaign fighting the recall.
  • The California Democratic Party dropped more than $500,000 into the campaign during its first week.
  • Labor icon Dolores Huerta and labor groups including the National Union of Healthcare Workers say they oppose the recall.

Campaign finance data comes from Cal-Access.

Although Los Angeles County has collected the most signatures at 181,846, the most per capita comes from counties in the Sierra Foothills and Northern California, with Amador County receiving the highest at 10.8 signatures per 100 residents.

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California Secretary of State

Polls suggest a majority of California voters want to keep Newsom in office, though voters are deeply divided along partisan lines. The Public Policy Institute of California’s March survey found 56% of likely voters would support Newsom in a recall election, while 40% would vote to recall him.

According to an analysis by PPIC president Mark Baldassare, those numbers square with the state’s political makeup. An overwhelming majority of Republican voters — 79% — would vote to recall Newsom compared to 79% of Democratic voters who would vote to keep the governor.

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Public Policy Institute of California

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified what office would call the recall special election once it's certified. That is the Lieutenant Governor.