• Yitzi Halberstam ('22)

The California Recall Election


A few weeks ago, you may have heard some buzz on social media about California's governor being recalled. You may have even heard people like Alex Hersh, the creator of Gravity Falls, tweet about how this could lead to a conservative takeover of Congress. You heard that the Democrats won and it was all a waste of time. You may now be left with a few nagging questions. What really occurred in California, what was the point, and how did an election in a strong blue state draw so much attention?


In California, a recall election can begin if 12 percent of the state's population sign a petition in favor of recalling the governor. No particular reason or impeachable offense is required; as long as the signatures are there, it can proceed. While a majority of Californians typically support Democratic candidates, 34.3 percent of them voted for former President Trump in the 2020 election. Therefore, receiving the requisite signatures to recall the Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom was not a problem. In the typical recall, the state would validate the signatures, and the re-election would take place within approximately 60-80 days. However, due to the COVID-19 virus the process was prolonged.



Now, you may still think this is ridiculous. California is known for being very liberal, so surely the voters would be content with Newson. However, this was not the case. In a recent PPIC poll, it was found that only 52 percent of voters blacked the governor, while 43 percent disapproved of his performance. While this poll suggests a majority of Californians were in favor of Newsom, given the enthusiasm of the conservatives and rather dismissive nature of the Democrats about the recall effort, these tight margins were not enough to ensure Newsom’s position. Moreover, a maskless appearance in a restaurant and a poor initial vaccine response left many liberal voters feeling betrayed, giving more hope to the conservatives backing the movement.


The Democrats also made it harder for themselves in their design of the ballots used in the election. The ballots presented two questions: “Do you want to recall governor Newsom?” and “If the governor is recalled, who do you want to replace him?” Republicans were united around Larry Elder, while Democrats who wanted an alternative to Newson were forced to find a suitable candidate. This led to the vote split amongst Democrats for the second question. Governor Newsom feared people would vote to replace him with another Democrat, in which case the unified Republicans would win. Instead, he told people to leave the second option blank, forcing people to vote for him not to be recalled. This strategy ended up working, and Elder received fewer votes than the total ballots returned blank for the second question.


The republicans mostly rallied around Larry Elder, who some have called even more extreme than Trump. Elder is against gun control, climate change funding, welfare, and the minimum wage. His support of liberetarian policies such as same-sex marriage and drug legalization, however, gave him more appeal among liberals. His popularity and widespread support along the political spectrum meant he could potentially become California's first African American governor.


While these developments suggest that the election may have been a close call, it was nothing but the case. Democratic officials were able to reach out to their supporters, telling them the importance of going out to vote in support of Newsom. When the final vote was counted, Gavin Newsom was reinstated as governor, with 62 percent of voters voting to not recall him. While some republicans blamed voter fraud, the results were not very surprising. The majority population in such a deep-blue state didn't want a conservative in office, and the votes demonstrate this fact. Thus, despite the major hype around the recall efforts, the Republicans wasted tens of millions of dollars that could have gone to a more feasible cause.


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