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Voters in California Recall Election to Decide Whether Gov. Newsom Keeps His Job

Voters will determine Tuesday whether California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who rode into office in 2018 with more than 60 percent of the vote, should keep his job or become only the third governor in U.S. history to be ousted in a recall election.

The election, an unusual process that starts with a petition in California, will decide whether Newsom will stay in office and, if not, who should serve out the remainder of his term.

There have been 54 previous attempts to recall a California governor. Only one was successful.

The governor’s fight against the recall appeared to gain momentum over the final weeks of the campaign, which included a visit Monday from President Joe Biden at a rally in Long Beach.

Forty-six candidates are on the ballot, vying to replace Newsom should voters back his recall. His opposition includes Republican front-runner Larry Elder, a conservative talk show host, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, and businessman John Cox, who was soundly defeated by Newsom in the last gubernatorial election.

It won’t matter who the leading vote-getter is Tuesday unless a majority votes yes on Newsom’s removal. If the recall fails, Newsom goes back to work for the final year of his term.  

Recall supporters have criticized Newsom, a former California lieutenant governor and San Francisco mayor, for his handling of the pandemic. He also faced widespread public backlash for dining out with friends and lobbyists at San Francisco Bay Area restaurant French Laundry last fall, while telling residents to stay home. State audits also revealed missteps that contributed to at least $10 billion in unemployment fraud.

The recall effort actually began over policies on immigration, crime and taxes, but took off after Newsom ordered restrictions to curb the pandemic and urged Californians to stay home. 

Republicans had hoped the recall would become a referendum on California’s chronic problems with crime, energy, homelessness and high housing prices. But the delta variant dragged the coronavirus outbreak back to the top of issues the public is worried about.

Newsom tried to make the race about COVID-19 precautions, such as vaccinations and masking in schools.

NBC4’s Conan Nolan’s talks with Eric Schickler, PhD, Co-Director Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley. The institute and the LA Times sponsor the latest poll indicating what most likely will happen this Tuesday.

Elder, who emerged this summer as the leading candidate to replace Newsom, has begun to echo former President Donald Trump by baselessly predicting that the recall will fail only if Democrats engage in voter fraud. Elder said last week that his campaign has an “integrity board,” with lawyers ready to look into questions about possible fraud or other irregularities. People can contact his campaign through his website.

“I believe that there might very well be shenanigans, as there were in the 2020 election,” he said, referring to Trump’s disproven claims of massive voter fraud in his loss to Democrat Joe Biden.

If elected, Elder would become California’s first Black governor.

The final days of the campaigns featured a blitz of TV ads and a last-minute rally for Newsom with President Biden. Elder broadly criticized the media for what he described as double standards that insulated Newsom from criticism and scrutiny throughout the contest.

How much will California spend on the recall election?

Although Tuesday is officially Election Day, millions of mail-in ballots have already been cast, just as they had before the 2020 Presidential Election. Most California Democrats vote by mail, and Republicans tend to vote in-person and have their ballots tallied faster. 

What does that mean for results? It’s possible they’ll become more and more Democratic as the counting continues. The state allows any ballot to count as long as it’s postmarked by Election Day and received within seven days. 

Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 in California. The GOP hasn’t won a statewide election in California since 2006, but 2020 was a relatively good year for Republicans in the nation’s most populous state. They won several Congressional swing seats in Southern and Central California.

A look at how the recall effort started and reached the ballot.

But Newsom has another factor in his favor that suggests a recall might be a lot to ask — history. Of the 54 previous attempts to recall a California governor since 1911, only one succeeded. That was in 2003, when Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was recalled by voters, who then replaced him with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Davis’ recall was the second in U.S. history, coming more than 80 years after North Dakotans recalled Gov. Lynn J. Frazier. Since then, only one recall effort — a failed 2012 attempt to oust Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — has gained enough momentum to go before voters.

A replacement for a recalled governor serves out the remainder of the governor’s term. Newsom’s current term, his first, ends in January 2023 after the governor’s office is contested in the November 2022 election.

County elections officials have 30 days after the election to complete the official canvass.

On the 38th day after the election, if the recall is successful, the Secretary of State will certify the election results. The new governor would then take the oath of office remain there for the rest of the term.

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