CA recall election: What to know about the election that could oust sitting Gov. Gavin Newsom

Supporters of the recall campaign of California governor Gavin Newsom holding a sign
Supporters of the recall campaign of California governor Gavin Newsom prepare for the upcoming recall election with a rally and information session in Carlsbad, California, U.S., June 30, 2021.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom will face a recall election on Sept. 14.
  • It marks the second time in the state's history that a governor could be ousted via a recall election.
  • Here's what you need to know about the upcoming election - from how to vote to what's at stake.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California will face a recall election in September.

A GOP-led effort to oust the governor reached its signature goal, state officials announced in April; California Secretary of State Shirley Weber certified the recall reelection on July 1, verifying that of the more than 2 million signatures supporting the recall effort, a little more than 1.7 million were determined to be valid.

California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounaliakis formally began proceedings in a proclamation released the same day, leaving voters with the task of deciding whether to recall the incumbent governor.

The recall election is scheduled for September 14.

Why is there a recall?

There is no simple answer as to what prompted the effort to recall the California governor.

The recall campaign officially started in February 2020. However, it gained steam as the pandemic hit, as some Californians were dissatisfied with Newsom instituting health safety measures and lockdowns in the state to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Opponents of Newsom also grew angrier with his policies - namely regarding the state's ongoing homelessness crisis, high taxes and cost of living, immigration, and rationing water and energy use - saying he has "implemented laws which are detrimental to the citizens of this state and our way of life."

"Having no other recourse, we the people have come together to take this action, remedy these misdeeds and
prevent further injustices," proponents of the recall argued.

Recall leaders include a retired sheriff's deputy and the former chair of the California GOP, but it has also drawn fringe support from anti-vaxxers, militia members, conspiracy theorists.

"This is about Gavin Newsom and his failed policies that have put us in the state of despair we are in today," Orrin Heatlie, one of the leaders of the recall effort, said, according to nonprofit CapRadio.

Though Newsom admitted he made some mistakes with his response to the pandemic during an interview with KQED in March, he said he thinks it doesn't justify the recall effort.

"It's about immigration. It's about our health care policies. It's about our criminal justice reform. It's about the diversity of the state. It's about our clean air, clean water programs, meeting our environmental strategies," he told the San Francisco news station at the time.

Read more: Caitlyn Jenner joins legal battle to block Gavin Newsom from getting a 'D' by his name on California's gubernatorial recall election ballot

How do people vote?

First, be sure to check if you are registered to vote in the upcoming election, which can be done through the California Secretary of State website. The deadline to register is August 30.

Every registered California voter will likely start receiving ballots for the September recall election as early as next week, with Monday, August 16, as the first day to vote by mail.

Ballots can be returned by mail with no postage required, returned to your county elections office, or put in a ballot drop box or polling place before 8 p.m. on September 14. If mailed, the ballot must be postmarked no later than September 14 and be received by the county elections off to count by September 21 to count.

For those who wish to vote in person, all counties will offer in-person voting from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day, but check your local elections office's website for specific details.

"As most of the health restrictions in place during the 2020 General Election have been lifted, voters will also have greater access to secure ballot drop-off boxes and more opportunities for traditional in-person voting.," according to the California Secretary of State's voter information guide.

On the ballot, there are two questions: one asking if Newsom should be removed from office, and a second question selecting his replacement. While voters are not technically required to respond to both questions, those who vote "no" to the recall can still choose a replacement candidate in the event that the recall passes. Voting for a replacement candidate will not invalidate your "no" vote.

What's at stake?

If one-half or more of California voters respond no, Newsom will remain in office. If more than half of respondents say yes, voters must respond to the second question on the same ballot on who will replace him for the remainder of the governor's term in office until January 2, 2023.

Nearly 50 names are included on the preliminary list of qualified candidates - about half of whom are Republicans. Democrat Kevin Paffrath and Republican Larry Elder are currently leading among those campaigning to replace Newsom, according to a poll conducted by Survey USA.

The candidate who gets the most votes will become governor, which could mean that Newsom's replacement could be chosen with just a fraction of the ballots.

"With dozens of candidates dividing those ballots it's possible a winner could get 25% or less," the Associated Press reported.

What's the likely outcome?

It is common for California governors to face recall threats with the state being one of 20 with provisions to oust a sitting governor. State legislation was established in the early 1900s with the intention to place "place more power directly in the hands of voters by allowing them to remove elected officials and repeal or pass laws by placing them on the ballot."

However, recall efforts rarely make it to the ballot; the 2021 recall election marks the second time in the state's history that a governor has faced one. California recalled its governor was in 2003, ousting Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and replacing him with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In an April poll of 1,174 likely voters by the Public Policy Institute of California, most respondents said they opposed ousting Newsom from office - with 56% of respondents saying they didn't support the recall and 40% saying they did.

But the new Survey USA poll released in August showed the numbers skewing out of Newsom's favor - with now 51% percent of likely California voters say they would vote "yes" to recall.

"A similar poll conducted by Survey USA in May found only 36% of likely voters were in favor of Gov. Newsom's recall, with 47% opposed to his removal from office," Insider's Rebecca Cohen reported.

However, the key metric is voter turnout. If more GOP voters show up to the polls, Newsom could be ousted from office in spite of the fact that the state trends Democratic.

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