As voters begin to fill out their mail-in ballots, they should keep in mind that the Sept. 14 recall election is not a real election. In the normal scheme of things, that would occur beginning nine months from now, when Californians would have the first opportunity to decide if Gavin Newsom should remain in office. If he is one of the two top vote-getters in the June primary, Californians would have a second opportunity in the November general election.
By spending upwards of $300 million in taxpayer money, Republicans have accelerated this normal process by less than a year. And because of the peculiarities of the California recall process, they have also profoundly distorted conventional democratic election procedures.
Nineteen states permit the recall of governors. In virtually all, a successful recall petition spurs a special election in which the incumbent can run. Only in California (and Colorado, which has never had a successful recall petition) does a successful recall erase the incumbent from the ballot.
One might call the California recall process the mother of all cancel cultures.
This preposterous process enables an incumbent to receive 49 percent of the popular vote yet be replaced by someone receiving only 25 or 30 percent. This is exactly the outcome Californians wanted to prevent when they approved Proposition 14 in 2010, which allowed anyone to vote in the general primary with the top two vote-getters on the ballot. Californians wanted a governor elected with at least 50 percent of the popular vote. The recall process thwarts that guarantee.
In a state in which Democrats outnumber Republicans by 22 percentage points, Republicans know they can’t win a real statewide election. The recall is an opportunity to take control of the executive branch of the sixth largest economy in the world with a minority vote. The direct-mail and signature campaigns targeted Republican voters. Almost two thirds of the 2.1 million signatures submitted last March were from Republicans; just 9 percent were from Democrats.
Of the 41 candidates on the recall ballot, 21 are self-declared Republicans, and eight are Democrats. No Democrat has statewide recognition.
As Republican consultant Rob Stutzman told CalMatters, “If there is a lack of intensity among Democrats, something weird could happen.”
Yes, it could. And that weirdness could happen as California battles the worst pandemic since 1918, the worst drought in history, terrifying forest fires and an ever-dwindling supply of fresh water. A state that is home to a revamped Republican Party that has downplayed the dangers of the virus, moved to stifle authority and resources at public health agencies, undermined people’s faith in science, and sought to hobble the ability of government to deal with emergencies.
Republicans want Democrats to view the recall as an opportunity to send a protest message by either voting for the recall or not voting at all. A genuine protest vote would protest this short circuiting of the democratic process at this critical juncture in California history. Vote no and let the democratic election process continue.
David Morris has been a student of political and economic decision making for over 40 years, both as an author and a consultant to businesses and local, state and national governments. He lives in Point Reyes Station.