Will California Recall Elections Get a Makeover? There’s a Proposal on the Table
Recall elections would look drastically different under a new bill in Sacramento.
State Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, says the recall system — in place since 1911 — “no longer really serves the current moment.” He authored SCA 1, which among other changes, would separate the recall question and the elected official’s potential replacement into separate elections.
Currently, a recall for a statewide office or a state legislator asks two questions on the same ballot. Yes or no? And, who should be the successor? Gov. Gavin Newsom survived a recall vote in September 2021. In 2003, Gray Davis was recalled and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Newman says the 2021 recall attempt was about “disenfranchised groups … trying to get through a recall process what they probably wouldn’t be able to achieve in a normal election.”
Under Newman’s proposal, if a governor is recalled during the first two years of a term, voters would decide on the successor in the next statewide election. The lieutenant governor would serve in the interim.
If the governor is recalled in the last two years of a term, the lieutenant governor would serve until the next regular election.
The law would also allow the officer recalled to run in the election to fill the vacancy, and require a majority vote to win — which could trigger a runoff election. In the current recall system, the officer subject to recall is not allowed to run in the replacement election, and whoever gains the most votes wins.
(GV Wire/Paul Marshall)
Recall Change Would Apply to All Statewide Officers
For other statewide offices — lieutenant governor, secretary of state, controller, treasurer, attorney general, superintendent of public instruction, and members of the Board of Equalization — a recall-caused vacancy would be filled by appointment from the governor, and confirmation from the state Legislature. This would follow the procedure already in place for such vacancies. The recalled member would not be eligible for an appointment.
The proposed recall law would also apply to members of the Assembly or state Senate. Newman should know. He was recalled by Orange County voters in 2018, upset over his vote over the gas tax. He returned to his seat, winning a regular 2020 election.
Under Newman’s plan, a vacancy caused by the recall of a state legislator would not be filled on the same ballot. Rather, a special election would be called as if the legislator vacated the seat for another reason as is the current process.
Newman said “it is not ideal” to have a gap of no representation in his system, but better than the alternative.
“Is that better or worse than a scenario where you have a group that secures enough signatures, gets a special election … and then in the second question, you could have a replacement candidate who got a very small share (of the vote)?” Newman said.
If the proposal is approved by the Legislature — a two-thirds margin is required in each house — it would go to the voters to amend the state Constitution in 2024. Passage would be by a majority vote.
Newman attempted a similar recall reform last year, but the bill never made it out of committee.
George Santos Situation Inspires This Newman Proposal
Newman is also proposing two other government reform laws.
The “DUPE Law” (Disqualifying Unscrupulous and Pathological Electeds) is inspired by New York Congressman George Santos, Newman said. Santos, who was elected in November, has admitted to lying about his accomplishments, education, and work history.
The proposed law, SB 248, would require candidates to file under penalty of perjury, information about their education, job history, and military service when they run.
Those caught lying could be removed from office. The secretary of state and/or county election clerks would be responsible for enforcement.
“It’s more about deterrence than enforcement,” Newman said.
Another bill, SB 251, would prevent local elected officials from holding a public job in the office of another elected official. For example, a school board member would not be able to work for a city councilmember if they share the same constituency.
“That is problematic to me because if you’re a constituent of that person, it raises an obvious question about whether or not you’re going to get good objective service. It seems inherently conflicted,” Newman said.