Two-thirds of Californians support reforming the recall process.,
How California’s Recall Laws Could Change
Two-thirds of Californians support reforming the recall process.
Gov. Gavin Newsom held a rally in Los Angeles last week.Credit…Allison Zaucha for The New York Times
The looming recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom has revealed something of a paradox among Californians: We hold dear our ability to recall elected leaders from office but believe the process by which we do so to be deeply flawed.
In recent weeks, there have been a growing number of calls to reform the state’s recall laws, as well as a (now dismissed) lawsuit that claimed the upcoming election was unconstitutional. As of July, two-thirds of Californians thought the process was ripe for change, according to a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.
Recalls in California are, frankly, confusing. In this election, some voters are unsure if they can vote on both questions on the ballot. Many are mystified as to how someone who wins as few as 10 percent of the votes could walk away the leader of 40 million people.
“It’s not a healthy structure,” Raphael Sonenshein, the executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles, told me. “I’m hoping after this one is over that we’re all going to sit down and say, ‘There’s got to be some better rules.'”
But, as with so many things, it is easier said than done.
And amending the Constitution is a difficult, two-step process:
First, the State Legislature would have to pass the proposed amendment with two-thirds support in each house. (Alternatively, voters could collect close to a million signatures in support — though experts say this route is less likely.)
Then, the amendment would appear on a statewide ballot, where it would require a simple majority to become law.
“The big items that have people in a twist — those things are all in the Constitution,” Matt Coles, a law professor at the University of California, Hastings, told me.
There are some less fundamental changes that could be approved by the Legislature without needing voter approval, such as a ban on paid signature gathering. But the most common ideas I’ve heard would require constitutional amendments.
I’ve laid some of them out below:
More signatures to qualify for the ballot
To get a recall on the ballot, the California Constitution requires that supporters collect signatures equal to 12 percent of the total votes cast in the previous election for governor.
That is among the lowest thresholds in the nation and part of why California is the unofficial recall capital of America, experts say.
“In 2020 alone, at least 14 governors nationwide faced recall efforts, but only California’s attempt proceeded to a ballot,” The Times’s editorial board wrote on Thursday, saying that was “due in part to those other states’ higher thresholds.”
In the poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, more than half of Californians supported raising the threshold to 25 percent, a common level set by other states.
State Senator Josh Newman, a Democrat of Fullerton who was recalled in 2018, told me he planned to introduce legislation next year that would raise the bar to 20 percent.
Mail-in recall ballots were processed in Los Angeles County on Thursday.Credit…Frederic J. Brown/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Limiting recalls to illegal or unethical activity
Currently, an elected official in California may be recalled for any reason, a provision explicitly stated in the Constitution.
But 60 percent of Californians support rules that allow recalls only for illegal or unethical activity, according to the recent poll.
Replacing the recalled governor with the lieutenant governor
In some states, such as Oregon and Michigan, a governor who is recalled by voters is automatically replaced by the lieutenant governor.
But in California, as well as most of the 19 states that allow recalls of state officials, the choice is left in the hands of the voters.
Newman told me he planned to propose a constitutional amendment early next year to change that, which would eliminate the replacement question on the ballot.
“That’s what creates this incentive to stage a recall election,” he said. “Somebody could squeak through with a very small plurality.”
State Senator Ben Allen, a Santa Monica Democrat, has proposed a different fix. He has introduced a constitutional amendment that would allow a politician facing a recall to also run as a replacement candidate.
Others have suggested holding the replacement election on a separate day from the recall election. Having a runoff between the top two replacement candidates has also been floated.
All these changes, again, would require rewriting the state’s Constitution.
Why do we have recalls? Thank Los Angeles.
Newsom is telling voters to leave half the ballots blank. Here’s why.
The recall election has resurfaced talk of a “California exodus.” But where are Californians actually moving — Texas? Idaho?
The recall, T-minus four days
Here’s the latest on the recall election, scheduled for Sept. 14:
President Biden will travel to California on Monday to campaign for Newsom, adding yet another high-profile Democrat to the effort to beat back the recall.
As of Wednesday, Sierra County, which tends to favor Republicans, had the highest voter turnout based on the ballots already mailed in, according to SFGate. The county with the lowest turnout was Imperial County, a typically Democratic region with a majority Latino population.
As my colleagues have reported, Newsom has struggled to motivate Latinos to support him in the recall.
And finally, The Times has answers to your frequently asked recall questions. Here’s a useful one:
How do I track my ballot?
You can track when your vote-by-mail ballot is received and counted at california.ballottrax.net/voter.
Tell us what else you want to know about the recall. Email your questions to CAtoday@nytimes.com.
Much of California is gripped by excessive heat and severe drought.Credit…Josh Edelson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The rest of the news
Summer heat: California recorded its hottest-ever June through August this year, as the nation overall did the same, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association confirmed on Thursday.
Early Covid-19 deaths: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating four possible Covid-19 deaths, including one in California, from January 2020, part of a scattershot collection of clues about the virus’s early spread.
20th anniversary of Sept. 11: No state has lost as many people to the war on terror as California. Read a gripping, tragic story from The Los Angeles Times.
Stimulus checks: The California Franchise Tax Board announced that two million more stimulus checks will be mailed out next week, KTLA 5 reports.
Drought: California’s drought is driving up greenhouse gas emissions, as water use, collection, treatment and management is linked to about 20 percent of California’s statewide electricity use, according to a new study published by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute and reported on by The Hill.
New legislation: The state is wrapping up its legislative session this week, so there is a lot of new legislation heading to Newsom’s desk for a final signature. Among them are a proposal to ban removing a condom without permission during intercourse, to require California public schools and colleges to stock restrooms with free menstrual products and to prohibit the police from using facedown holds, reports The Associated Press.
Dropped vaccine requirements: California’s State Legislature has shelved bills aimed at requiring workers to either be vaccinated or get weekly coronavirus testing to keep their jobs, The Associated Press reports.
Vaccine mandate: Los Angeles is the first major school district in the United States to mandate coronavirus vaccines for students 12 and older who are attending class in person.
Divorces on the rise: Divorce filings are up significantly in Los Angeles over the past five months, compared with the same period in 2020. Read more from The Times.
Pinball museum: The Museum of Pinball in Riverside County is one of the largest museums devoted to pinball machines. But because of financial struggles during the pandemic, the museum on Friday will start to auction off its more than 1,700 arcade games.
Los Angeles policing: The Los Angeles Police Department has directed its officers to collect the social media information of every civilian they interview, including individuals who are not arrested or accused of a crime, The Guardian reports.
Five Marines injured: A 30,000-pound Oshkosh truck went off Interstate 215 in Menifee in Riverside County on Wednesday, injuring five U.S. Marines. The truck rolled down an embankment and landed on its side, The Associated Press reports.
Crumbling canals: The major arteries of California’s water-delivery system are crumbling, but a proposal in the Legislature to spend $785 million fixing them is dead for the year, infuriating farm groups in the San Joaquin Valley, reports The Sacramento Bee.
Wildfires: A weather system approaching northwestern California was expected to bring dry lightning and blustery winds by late Thursday, unleashing a risk of new wildfires, reports The Associated Press.
Aluminum foil foils wildfires: Firefighters covered some cabins with foil to protect them from the raging Caldor fire, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.
Go Bears: The University of California, Berkeley, unseated Harvard as the best college in America, as ranked by Forbes magazine.
Credit…Christopher Simpson for The New York Times
What we’re eating
This end-of-summer egg dish is run through with spiced eggplant, tomatoes and herbs.
Credit…Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images
Where we’re traveling
Today’s travel tip comes from Jeff DeCurtins, a reader who lives in Menlo Park:
If you wait for a clear-air day, a great place to see all of Los Angeles at once is from the Mount Wilson Observatory parking lot. There are also a small astronomy museum and guided tours of the historical telescopes. Edwin Hubble used the 100-inch telescope in the 1920s to discover that our universe is much larger than we had thought and is expanding.
Tell us about the best spots to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
What we’re recommending
This week I’ve been watching “The Wilds,” a TV show streaming on Amazon Prime that’s part “Lost,” part “Lord of the Flies” and part “The Breakfast Club.” I’m hooked.
Baby Marta.Credit…Santa Barbara Zoo
And before you go, some good news
On a recent early morning, a one-pound leopard named Marta was born at the Santa Barbara Zoo. But Marta isn’t just any cub.
She’s an Amur leopard, the most endangered big cat species in the world with fewer than 100 remaining in the wild, reports The Santa Barbara Independent.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back on Monday. Enjoy your weekend. — Soumya
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Michael K. Williams’s role on “The Wire” (4 letters).
Steven Moity and Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.