By Larry Levine –
If the pending recall election against California Governor Gavin Newsom is telling us anything, it’s saying now would be a good time to explore changes to the state’s recall process.
County elections officials across the state estimate the cost to taxpayers to conduct the election will be some $400 million. That’s for an election the majority of Californians don’t seem to want and in which voter turnout is likely to not eclipse 50 percent.
To qualify a gubernatorial recall under current law backers need to gather valid signatures equal to 12 percent of the turnout in the last gubernatorial election. In the case of the Newsom recall that’s about 1.5 million signatures. With enough money in today’s hyper-partisan world, the signatures to put the recall of Democrat Newsom on the ballot could be gathered largely from among the states approximate 5 million registered Republicans and that’s pretty much what they have done.
There are several changes we might consider to assure future recalls are broad-based citizen recalls motivated to cure malfeasance or misfeasance in office or corruption and not partisan exercises to oust a member of the opposite party.
The number of signatures needed to qualify a recall should be increased to at least 20 percent of the turnout in the last election for that same office and signatures should be representative of the electorate as a whole. This could be accomplished by requiring Democrats, Independents and Republicans be represented among the signers in the approximate percentages as they are of the voter registration.
An acknowledged flaw in the current system is that someone could become governor with fewer votes than are cast in opposition to the recall. Imagine an election in which 48 percent of the voters oppose the recall. With a large number of candidates running to replace the governor on the same ballot and the winner needing only a plurality of the votes, someone could be elected with 35 to 40 percent of the votes. Most advocates of eliminating this possibility call for unhooking the successor election from the recall ballot – hold the recall election, if it succeeds hold a subsequent election to fill the vacancy. Number one argument against this is the cost of a second election, another $400 million.
Instead we should consider eliminating the election of a successor to a recalled governor. Two potential options could accomplish this. 1) If the governor is recalled, the lieutenant governor becomes governor. 2) If the governor is recalled and the lieutenant governor is of a different party the next highest statewide partisan office holder of the same party as the recalled governor becomes governor. For recalls of statewide office holders other than governor the vacancy would be filled by gubernatorial appointment subject to ratification by the legislature, just as is done now to fill vacancies created by circumstances other than a recall, like former Secretary of State Alex Padilla being appointed to the U.S. Senate and Governor Newsom appointing Shirley Weber to fill the vacancy.
Each of these changes would help assure a recall is truly a citizens’ recall. As such it would justify the expense of the election.
I’m sure there are others out there with other ideas. Perhaps the legislature should consider putting a measure on the same ballot as the recall and give the voters a chance to bring integrity to the process.