California Governor Faces Recall
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Governor's Mansion State Historic Park is the location of Historic Governor's Mansion of California, the former official home of the Governor of California.

California Governor Faces Recall

Did you know that citizens in some states have a tool to remove an elected official from office? It’s called a recall election. And right now, California’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, is facing one. What are the steps of a recall? How easy or difficult is it to recall an elected official? Election Central takes a closer look at this and more as we examine the complicated issue of recall elections.

Why a Recall?

The group organizing the recall against Governor Newsom is called Recall Gavin 2020. According to the group’s website, which was paid for by the California Patriot Coalition, the governor has failed California. Their evidence of this failure includes the state’s high taxes, soaring rates of homelessness, a rising crime rate, and poor schools. They also take issue with how Newsom handled the COVID-19 pandemic. They disagree with the state-wide lockdown, claiming that the stay-at-home order violated their First Amendment right to freedom of assembly.

According to Governor Newsom and other California Democrats, the group represents right-wing extremists and Trump supporters, rather than mainstream California voters.

What Will the Process Look Like?

States set their own rules about recall elections. In California, Newsom’s critics had to first circulate a petition with enough valid signatures on it to trigger a recall election. (California law requires that the number of valid signatures collected come from at least five separate counties and equal at least 12 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.) The California secretary of state’s office examined the signatures and determined that there were enough valid ones. Now, the process is in a thirty-day holding period, to allow people who signed the recall petition time to change their minds and remove their names if they want to. At the end of that period, if there are still enough signatures, then there is a lengthy budgetary review and scheduling process. After that, the recall election will take place.

There will be two questions on the ballot: whether or not Newsom should be removed from office, and if so, who should replace him. There will likely be many replacement names on the ballot. The last time a California governor was recalled, there were 135 named replacements to choose from!

What is the likelihood that the governor will be recalled? According to a poll taken in mid-March 2021:

  • 42 percent who responded said they plan to vote to keep him in office,
  • 38 percent said that they would vote to remove him,
  • 14 percent were undecided, and
  • 6 percent said they won’t vote in the recall process at all.

Can All States Recall Governors?

Only twenty U.S. states allow for gubernatorial recall. Though each state has its own process and requirements, all require a certain number of signatures to be collected in a certain period of time in order to trigger the recall process. Some, such as Alaska and Kansas, have specific grounds for recall, such as conviction of a felony or misconduct in office. Other states , including California, only require filing enough signatures on a recall petition.

In addition to California, the states allowing gubernatorial recall include Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Dig Deeper Out of 55 attempts in its history, California has only had one other gubernatorial recall election, in 2003. Which governor faced being recalled that time and why? What was the outcome?
Valerie Cumming

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