The Democratic governor of a deep blue state could be removed by Republicans.
California Governor Gavin Newsom faces a high-stakes election on September 14 that threatens to replace him with one of the dozens of candidates, including a popular conservative radio host who is against abortion and has praised former Republican President Donald Trump.
Newsom is in the midst of a recall election — an attempt by Republican voters to remove him from office. Nationally, the outcome could be a bellwether for the 2022 congressional midterm elections, and top Democrats are throwing their weight behind Newsom.
This week, Vice President Kamala Harris travelled to the Bay Area to support Newsom, and President Joe Biden is expected to join his campaign next week.
Registered voters are receiving ballots in the mail that pose two questions: first, should Newsom be recalled? If voters answer yes, they can choose from a list of 46 candidates to replace him.
If 50 percent or more vote against recalling Newsom, he will remain in office. If a majority votes in favour of recalling him, he would be removed, and the candidate with the most votes on the second question would replace him.
Critics of the recall have said the process is unfair because, for example, 49 percent of voters could vote against recalling Newsom, and his replacement could have a smaller percentage of the remaining votes.
How did we get here?
Not every state has recall elections, but in California, any voter can initiate the removal of an elected official if they gather enough signatures.
California voters start recalls all the time, but they do not often gain traction — this is only the second recall election of a governor in state history, and the fourth in US history.
In February 2020, retired police officer Orrin Heatlie started the recall after he was offended by Newsom’s comments telling undocumented people not to open their doors unless police had a warrant, according to The Associated Press news agency.
Heatlie and volunteers gathered thousands of signatures from other Republicans who disliked Newsom, but they needed the signatures of 12 percent of voters from the previous election — 1.5 million people.
Sarah Hill, associate professor of political science at California State University, said Newsom’s actions confirmed public perception. “It matched with what people’s opinions were [of Newsom], and it really provided the example that people needed,” she said.