A Brand New(som) Approach
California's Recall Election: the neutral
Welcome to Spenser’s Super Tuesday, a newsletter from a voting rights journalist and poll worker. Every week, I spotlight a new, under-reported topic in the fight for the franchise. Both the good: what’s going right. And the bad: what’s going wrong and ways to fix it. Last week was voter intimidation in Texas. This week is California’s recall election.
I’m throwing out the rulebook.
Today, we’re ditching the good-bad SST model and sitting with the discomfort of *neutral* election news.
In March, the campaign to recall California Governor Gavin Newsom submitted 2.1 million signatures to the Secretary of State. If at least 1.5 million are verified, there will be an election in October with two questions:
Should Governor Newsom be recalled?
If so, who should replace him?
On its surface, the process seems simple (18 other states have recalls), but it’s actually more convoluted than this L.A. interchange:
Tag yourself. I’m “King Jesus Bible Way.”
For starters, after the signatures are validated, there’s a 30-day window in which anyone who signed the petition can withdraw their name, potentially cancelling the recall altogether.
Second, it’s up to the Secretary of State to set the date of the election, which could happen anytime between October 6th and 26th and is estimated to cost $81 million.
Third, because the first question is considered a ballot measure, campaign finance limits don’t apply to Governor Newsom (who’s prohibited from running as a candidate). However, they do apply to the other contenders, of which there could be as many as 300, potentially including Caitlyn Jenner (as a Republican).
Finally, Newsom needs a majority to survive, but if he’s recalled, a candidate only needs a plurality to win. With 300 candidates in the race, that could be as little as .34% of the vote (it wouldn’t be, but I’m proving a point here).
In the nightmare scenario, each new governor is then recalled and replaced by another candidate with minority support, creating a cycle that ends only when California fulfills the conservatives’ prophecies, bankrupts itself, and floats into the sea.
Minority rule, unpredictable timelines, a state imploding from too much democracy — Spenser, I thought you hated these things. How could this be neutral news, you coward????
The More Neutral
Do I think this process is perfect? No. There’s only one perfect process, and it’s CrossFit (*smiles and looks around nervously*).
For one, governors should be chosen by the majority of voters, though that’s easier said than done. A 300-person ranked choice ballot would be chaos at its most chaotic, and a Final Five situation would require yet another round in this already exhausting drama.
I’d also like a higher threshold on the number of signatures needed to get the recall on the ballot, which is currently 12% of the votes cast for governor in the last election. But at the same time, of the six attempts to recall Newsom in the past two years (!), this is the only one to meet that requirement, likely because organizers were given an additional 120 days due to the pandemic.
In fact, nearly all of California’s 175 recall attempts have failed, suggesting that this isn’t necessarily a process run amok.
More fundamentally, though, I don’t think it’s bad to have a way to remove the incumbent, especially one idiotic enough be photographed breaking his own pandemic protocols by eating dinner in a luxury restaurant — and in California, no less! Home of McMansions with multiple dining rooms!
Also, you know that SST is strictly nonpartisan (not to brag, but I have a Republican subscriber, and he lives in SoCal!). However, I’ll mention that if Newsom wins this recall, it could demoralize the GOP after its surprising Congressional wins last November and help the Dems increase their House majority.
Which is all to say that this situation epitomizes the tradeoffs we often have to make when it comes to elections. For example, I believe it should be easy for candidates to get on the ballot, but I also think that 300 people vying for governor is too many. I believe that executive power should be checked, but I know those safeguards will be abused by bad-faith actors.
If we’re expecting our democracy to satisfy all of our demands simultaneously, we’re bound to be disappointed. The goal is progress, not perfection (again, unless we’re talking about CrossFit).
And speaking of CrossFit (and bad transitions), I wrote a book with Mat Fraser, the five-time Fittest Man on Earth. You can preorder it here.
How You Can Help
Almost all of my info came from two sources:
Lara Korte at the Sacramento Bee. Subscribe here, and if you want daily updates on the recall, text Capitol Alert to (916) 884-2779.
Joshua Spivak, who writes the very good Recall Elections Blog.
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