Recall Fever

March 2021

As you certainly have heard, proponents of the effort to recall Governor Newsom claim to have submitted more than 2.1 million signatures as of last Wednesday’s deadline, well over the 1.5 million needed to qualify the recall for the ballot. Given these numbers, and that the validity rate of the signatures thus far is at or above 80 percent, everything seems to indicate that the recall will qualify for the ballot. The Sutton Law Firm has monitored the recall proponents’ qualification efforts, and has gleaned two important lessons which may have impacts beyond the recall. 
First, the recall proponents have evidently been very successful in gathering signatures in non-traditional ways. For instance, the proponents established a website with clear instructions about how supporters could print and properly complete the petitions. Proponents also targeted the petition by direct mail, including a self-addressed stamped envelope, to high-propensity supporters. Recall proponents also hosted events throughout the state, hired signature gathering firms, and used other traditional signature gathering tactics, but we may see these alternative methods in future state and local initiative, referendum and recall campaigns.
Second, the timing of the recall election is far from clear, and may affect all races in 2022. Right now, the Registrars of Voters and the Secretary of State are determining the total number of valid signatures on the recall petition. After that number is determined, the Governor will have the ability to ask voters who signed the petition to “withdraw” their names, and the Registrars and Secretary of State will reassess the final numbers based on these withdrawals. (This withdrawal requirement was added in response to a recent recall effort against a State Legislator as a way to delay the process and help targeted incumbents.) Several more weeks are then built into the process to allow the Department of Finance to estimate the cost of the recall election. 
Once this entire process is done, which will take several months, Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis has to schedule the recall election (assuming the proponents actually still have 1.5 million valid signatures) within 60 to 80 days of the Secretary of State’s certification. The 60 to 80 day window would place the election in November or early December 2021 – but the election could be consolidated with the June 7, 2022 primary if the date set by Lieutenant Governor Kounalakis is within 6 months of the June primary (i.e., if the recall election would be held on or after December 9, 2021). In other words, if Governor Newsom or the Legislature figure out some way to delay the process by even just a few weeks – perhaps through litigation or perhaps by further amending the law to add even more steps – then the recall election could be held in June 2022.
However, this potential delay is complicated by the 2020 Census, which is evidently so woefully behind schedule that the State’s Redistricting Commission may not be able to publish new lines for the State Assembly or State Senate until 2022. The Census was supposed to have provided numbers to California by January 2021 so that the Redistricting Commission could have new legislative district lines done by July 2021, giving incumbents and challengers time to determine in which district they live and to start their campaigns. The latest information is that the Census may not be able to provide these numbers until September 2021 – and the State may actually have to postpone the 2022 primary election, perhaps until August. Not only would postponing the primary election from June to August 2022 impact all state and local campaigns throughout the state, it would also make it more likely that the Governor will be facing the voters this fall.
The recall campaign is already underway while these logistics proceed. The two political committees supporting the recall – “California Patriot Coalition” and “Rescue California” – have raised approximately $5 million to date, and shared resources to qualify the recall for the ballot. We will not know until April 30, when the committees file their next campaign reports, exactly how much each committee has spent and how much money they have leftover after the signature gathering effort. Governor Newsom finally decided to fight fire with fire by opening his own anti-recall committee, called “Stop the Republican Recall of Governor Newsom,” with the seed money coming from the California Democratic Party. Newsom’s committee has evidently raised $568,965.50 in just its first week of operation. SuperPACs are also lining up on both sides. No matter what side you are on, the recall election will be a big, expensive fight.
 *          *          *
Please contact a Sutton Law Firm attorney if you have any questions about the recall process, the scheduling of upcoming elections, or how the Governor recall election may affect candidate or ballot measure elections in local jurisdictions.
About the Sutton Law Firm
The Sutton Law Firm specializes in political and election law, representing businesses, individuals, candidates, ballot measures, PACs and nonprofit organizations involved in the political and legislative processes on the state, local and national levels. The firm offers its clients a full range of legal, reporting and litigation services.