Californians May be Ready to Reform the System as the Recall Campaign Winds Down

Though Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recall election ends on Tuesday, its impact on California politics is certain to endure. And it’s for a good purpose.

How California's Recall Laws Could Change - The New York Times

The campaign, which was started by conservative critics and is fuelled by anger and terror over the state’s COVID-19 limits, has shed light on the regulations governing recall campaigns, with scholars and activists alike agreeing that changes are long necessary. According to recent research, voters may be ready for change as well. At the very least, up to a degree.


The institute’s poll, co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, found that 75% of registered voters want to maintain their right to recall a statewide official through a recall election, according to new data released Monday. In a survey done during the first week of September, strong majorities in practically every voter subgroup concurred. Republicans were practically unified in their support for recall elections.


However, the poll of nearly 10,000 registered voters also solicited feedback on five proposals for reforming the laws governing statewide recall elections, a tool of California’s lauded direct democracy system that hasn’t altered much since it was established in 1911.


The most popular of the five recommended reforms was holding a runoff election if a recall is successful but no replacement candidate receives a majority of votes. The plan was supported by 63 percent of voters, while it was less popular among Republicans, who only backed it with 41%. Behind the numbers, the dynamics of the contest to succeed Newsom if he is recalled tell an important narrative.


Multiple public polls have revealed that the 46 candidates on the ballot — who are competing in a race that only counts if the majority of voters agree to oust Newsom — would not even come close to achieving majority support.


As per a UC Berkeley poll, about a third of potential voters said they will skip the question on the ballot asking them to choose a replacement. And the front-runner in the race, Republican talk radio presenter Larry Elder, has only 38% of those who will vote in the second round of the recall election behind him.


Critics have contended that requiring an incumbent to earn a majority of votes but allowing a new governor to take office with merely a plurality of votes is undemocratic — and may not pass constitutional scrutiny. Because of the current procedures, even an unpopular governor could receive more votes than the person who is permitted to take over the position.

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