This past week, California had a major election. According to the California Secretary of State’s office, there were only two questions on the ballot: “1) do you want to recall Governor Newsom? and 2) If the governor is recalled, who do you want to replace him?” If 50% or more of the electorate voted “No,” Governor Gavin Newsom would remain in office. If 50% or more voted “Yes,” however, Governor Newsom would be removed from office and the candidate with the most votes would replace him. Voters could vote by mail or in person, and voters could also register on the same day.
On September 14, 63.5% of voters voted to have Newsom remain in office to carry out the rest of his term. Newsom defeated a staggering 40 plus potential candidates, most notably conservative radio host Larry Elder. Elder, a University of Michigan law school graduate who campaigned on a slew of issues, from repealing mask and vaccine mandates to eliminating many environmental regulations. Elder received 2.7 million votes, which was not nearly enough to come close to beating Newsom, although he was still by far the leader for potential replacements. If elected, Elder would have been the first Black governor of California. Other notable candidates included former reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner and Democrat Kevin Paffrath, a financial advisor for YouTube.
Although the election in California was only statewide, it drew national attention. President Biden flew out to California on September 13 to campaign for Newsom, knowing the greater effect this election had on the Democratic party. Biden said at the rally, “This is not hyperbole: The eyes of the nation are on California. Because the decision you’re about to make isn’t just going to have a huge impact on California, it’s going to reverberate around the nation. And quite frankly, it’s not a joke around the world.” Other prominent Democrats, including former President Barack Obama, helped campaign for Newsom in recent weeks.
Some question why the election was held in the first place, considering the astronomical cost of the recall for a governor whose term ends in early 2023. The recall election cost $276 million for California taxpayers as of election day. That figure is expected to grow as election results continue to come in and as the full amount of costs are added up. In recall elections, citizens can petition for a recall and vote to remove an elected official before their term ends as opposed to an impeachment process. California is one of 19 states in the U.S. that allows for recall elections. Michigan also allows recall elections of public officials. California’s last recall for governor in 2003 was successful when Democratic Governor Gray Davis was replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In California, citizens simply have to collect an appropriate amount of signatures in order to open up a recall election. Only 1.465 million signatures are needed to start a recall election, and a candidate needs only 7,000 signatures to appear on the ballot. Newsom’s recall petition began in early 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. However, the petition gained momentum once Covid-19 mitigation measures, such as lockdowns and mask mandates, began to take hold. The petition gained even more traction after the press found pictures of Newsom dining at a fancy Napa Valley restaurant with people outside of his household during a time in which California’s Covid-19 restrictions prohibited that activity. Although Newsom apologized for the incident, GOP leaders have made the incident a focal point of the campaign. Since the initial petition was made before the pandemic, none of the filings include statements on how Newsom handled the pandemic.
For some Hope students who hail from The Golden State, the election seemed to be a hassle. “I got the ballot in the mail and it had all the candidates, and I spent some time googling to see if I would vote for recall, who would I vote for, or if I would just let it be,” sophomore Sofie Green said. “It kind of seemed like a joke, to be honest. There were some [candidates] that didn’t seem to really be running, to be honest. There were a couple of people who seemed to be taking it seriously, but I just let it be. It seemed a little bit ridiculous.”