Gov. Gavin Newsom at a press conference in San Francisco on March 24, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)
The campaign to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom from office has submitted enough valid signatures to force an election later this year, according to updated totals from county election officials released on Monday.
By clearing the threshold of 1,495,709 valid voter signatures, the campaign has set the stage for the political event of the year: just the second gubernatorial recall election in California history and a direct challenge to the Democratic leadership of the nation’s largest state.
"Today is not about the politicians, it's about the people and it's about democracy in action," said Randy Economy, senior adviser to the recall campaign.
As of Monday, counties reported 1,626,042 valid signatures in support of the recall election.
“This now triggers the next phase of the recall process, a 30-business-day period in which voters may submit written requests to county Registrars of Voters to remove their names from the recall petition,” said Secretary of State Shirley Weber in a statement. “A recall election will be held unless a sufficient number of signatures are withdrawn."
A KQED analysis of the Secretary of State's data found strong support for the recall petition in the Gold Country counties of Amador, Calaveras and Tuolumne, where 18-19% of registered voters signed on.
Support for the recall petition was among the lowest in the Bay Area counties of Marin (where 1.5% of registered voters signed the petition), San Francisco (1.8%), San Mateo (2.0%), Alameda (2.7%) and Santa Clara (4.7%).
With the recall now heading to the ballot, opponents of Newsom will have to shape an argument for replacing him that can win over voters in deep blue California, where Newsom won 62% of the vote against Republican John Cox three years ago.
"The people of California were locked down by Gov. Newsom," Economy added. "His constant demand to make this about him and his edicts and his way or the highway I think is the thing that actually was his demise."
Just 40% of likely voters support recalling the governor, according to polling released last month by the Public Policy Institute of California, with 56% of likely voters opposed.
And Newsom’s job approval ratings have remained remarkably steady for more than a year in most polls.
“This election will be about two different visions for California," said Juan Rodriguez, campaign manager for the campaign opposing the recall.
"The Republican recall – backed by partisan, pro-Trump, and far-right forces – threatens our values as Californians and seeks to undo the important progress we’ve made under Gov. Newsom - fighting COVID, supporting families who are struggling, protecting our environment, common-sense gun safety laws. There’s simply too much at stake – we will win.”
Despite their confidence, Newsom and his political advisers acknowledge that any ballot challenge needs to be taken seriously — after all, the campaign to qualify an election also began as a long shot. In February 2020, former Yolo County Sheriff’s Deputy Orrin Heatlie filed a recall petition that criticized a litany of Newsom positions, from immigration and taxation to water policy and the death penalty.
When Newsom received national plaudits for his early handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the push to remove the governor seemed destined to follow a handful of earlier recall attempts into obscurity.
But on Nov. 6, a Sacramento Superior Court judge granted the recall campaign a four-month extension to collect signatures, moving the deadline to March 17 as California entered its worst months of the pandemic.
Coincidentally, that night, Newsom attended a dinner at the upscale French Laundry restaurant in the Napa Valley, ignoring his own guidance to avoid gatherings with mixed households. The dinner, when revealed, combined with increased frustration over school and business closures, propelled a surge in voter signatures.
More on the recall effort
The milestone reached Monday by the recall campaign is an early step in the long process toward an election that will likely take place toward the end of 2021.
Election officials in all 58 counties have until the end of the month to finish processing signatures. More than 100,000 petitions are still awaiting review. Secretary of State Weber has now kicked off a required 30-day period for voters to withdraw their name from the recall petition.
Former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata has launched a political action committee to contact voters and convince them to remove their names, though the identity of petition signers is not publicly available.
“There will be a variety of different hunches, and some data, some science and a lot of probably prayers and late-night hours, that we can mail to a couple million people and ask them, 'Did you really know what you were doing?' ” Perata said in an interview.
When the withdrawal window ends, Weber will determine if enough signatures remain to proceed with the election. After that, the Department of Finance and state legislative committees will likely spend the remainder of the summer analyzing the election’s costs. That would leave Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis to set the election for 60 to 80 days later, likely in November or December.
Whenever the date is, all voters will be mailed a ballot just as they were for the November presidential election. That could drive up costs for county election officials in charge of putting on the election, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.
"The registrars are anticipating that it could cost as much as $400 million to conduct this special recall election later this year," she said. "Given the cost of mailing everybody a ballot as well as providing in-person voting options, that seems about right."
Last year, the federal government picked up the tab for many of the voting services offered by California counties.
"We don't see that money out there this time, for this election and yet those costs are going to continue to be high," added Alexander.
Several Republicans have already announced their intention to run for governor, including former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, businessman Cox and a real wildcard — reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner, who announced her candidacy on Friday.