I have just received my ballot for California’s recall election for governor Gavin Newsom to be held on September 14th. The system governing recall elections of California’s governor has to be one of the stupidest ever devised. Basically, the ballot consists of two parts. In the first part you are asked to vote yes or no on whether he should be recalled. That is straightforward enough.
In the second part you are asked to vote for one of the candidates vying to hold the office in the event that a majority should vote in the first part to remove him. There are 46 candidates. Nine of the 46 have listed their party preference as Democrats, 24 as Republican, one Libertarian, 2 Green, and 10 as none. but this is meaningless since anyone can put anything as their preference on the ballot. Neither the Democratic or Republican parties have endorsed a candidate. So right now, there is a scramble among the 46 to claim that they would be the best person to assume the office if Newsom is recalled.
This results in voters having to make strategic calculations on the basis of very little information. If, like me, you plan to vote against recalling Newsom, you also need to think about whom you want to vote for in the event that he loses or whether you want to vote for any replacement at all. Right now the Democratic party is urging people to vote ‘no’ on the recall, which is fair enough. But it is also urging voters to skip the second part instead of choosing someone as a backup and their reasoning is not clear.
In theory one could have a result in which Newsom just barely loses the recall vote, getting very close to 50%, but then is replaced by someone who gets less than 3% of the votes. Such an absurd outcome could have been avoided if the target of the recall could also be one of the candidates in the second part, so that they could be recalled and still be re-elected by getting a plurality of the vote. But the law prohibits the target of a recall from being one of the replacement candidates, so that’s out. So we end up with possibility of an absurd scenario playing out, in which a governor who has almost 50% of support is replaced by someone who has just 3%. How absurd is that? Nice work, guys!
Note that Newsom was up for re-election in November 2022 anyway so all this is just to shave 16 months off his term. But Californians seem to love the recall process. Since 1911 when the recall system was included in the state constitution, there have been 54 (!) attempts at recall with only the 2003 effort being successful. In that year, Californians successfully recalled Democratic governor Gray Davis when 55.4% voted for his removal. That time there were 135 (!) candidates vying to replace him and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected as his replacement. But at least he got 48.58% of the vote. This time there is no one with that level of star power. The closest is reality TV personality Caitlyn Jenner and radio talk show host Larry Elder, both running as Republicans.
I am not sure how this cockamamie scheme came about. It would have been far better to have had two separate elections, one for the recall and, if that passes, another for a new governor. The only reason not to is to save money on holding two elections. But that seems like a small price to pay for avoiding a possibly ridiculous outcome.