The Gubernatorial Recall and the Continued Assault on Democracy

On September 14, Californians will cast their votes to decide whether Governor Gavin Newsom should be recalled from office and, if so, who should take his place. If the recall is successful, this will be yet another astounding example of the Republican Party exerting its political will on the majority despite being a significant minority.

Consider the numbers. 7.7 million people voted for Gavin Newsom, more than 61% of votes cast in the 2018 election, a landslide victory. To qualify the recall question for the ballot required the signatures of only 1,495,970 people (a recall only requires the signatures of the equivalent of 12% of the total voters in the election that put the person in office). Let’s pause there for a moment. A number equivalent to only 20% of the people who voted for Governor Newsom were able to force an election that will cost the state $276 million dollars. This is absolutely non-sensical and anti-democratic.

But it gets worse. Because of the way the recall election works, Governor Newsom must receive more than half of the votes cast in the recall election. Anything less than that and he will be removed from office. It is likely that turnout for a recall election with no other items on the ballot will be lower than it was in the 2018 general election. Thus, Newsome could be removed from office by far fewer voters than voted to put him in office, possibly by even fewer voters than voted against him in the general election. Does that sound like democracy?

But wait, it gets worse. While Newsom needs a majority of voters to retain his office, if he loses his office, the new Governor would simply be the candidate who received a plurality (the most) of the votes cast on the second question where Newsom is not permitted to appear as a candidate. There are 46 candidates vying to replace Newsom. So let’s say hypothetically that turnout for the recall is the same as the 2018 general election where ~12.5 million people cast votes. If (though this is an unlikely scenario), the votes split fairly evenly among the candidates, each would receive about 270,000 votes. This means it would be possible for someone to be the new Governor of California who received only 300,000 votes, 4% of the number that Newsome received to become Governor. This is absolute madness.

Even if you do not love Newsom, that any of this is possible should concern you greatly. We must first vote no on the recall and then we must get to work reforming the recall system that allows for the potentially absurd outcome of a very small minority wielding so much electoral power.