How Does the California Recall Election Work? Gavin Newsom's Battle Explained

The petition to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom has gathered enough valid signatures to trigger a vote that could remove him from office, state election officials said on Monday.

The campaign to recall Newsom began to gain traction last September, amid growing frustration over the Democrat's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a California recall election, voters are asked first whether or not an official should be removed from office. Then, according to the office of the California secretary of state, voters are asked to "choose a successor if the recall is successful" from a list of candidates.

Under election rules, the people who signed the recall petition can withdraw their signatures in the next 30 days. But it's unlikely withdrawals will prevent the election from going ahead, because election officials have verified more than 1.6 million signatures — about 100,000 more than the required number.

At the recall election, a majority vote will be required to remove Newsom from office.

"I am not going to take this fight lying down," the governor said on Monday, in a fundraising appeal sent after the election officials' announcement. "There is too much at stake, and I intend to win."

Here we take a closer look at how a recall election works in California.

What is a recall?

The office of the California secretary of state explains: "Recall is the power of the voters to remove elected officials before their terms expire. It has been a fundamental part of our governmental system since 1911 and has been used by voters to express their dissatisfaction with their elected representatives."

State officials who can be recalled include "the elected offices of governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, controller, attorney general, superintendent of public instruction, insurance commissioner, members of the State Board of Equalization, state legislators and justices of Courts of Appeal and the State Supreme Court."

The petition

To initiate recall proceedings against an official, the supporters of the recall "must serve, file and publish or post a notice of intention to circulate a recall petition," the rules state.

A copy of the notice must be served by personal delivery or by certified mail to the official they are seeking to recall. "In addition, the original of the notice of intention, along with an affidavit of the time and manner of service, must be filed with the secretary of state within seven days of being served.

"For a recall of a statewide officer, a petition must be signed by registered voters equal in number to twelve percent (12%) of the last vote for the office. Signatures must be obtained from at least five different counties and must be equal in number to at least one percent (1%) of the last vote for the office in each of five counties," according to the state rules.

For Newsom's recall, the 12 percent figure equated to 1,495,709 signatures.

"Upon receiving certification of the sufficiency of the recall petition from the secretary of state, the governor must publish a notice for the holding of the recall election.

Voters can withdraw their signature from the petition by filing "a written request with the county elections official within 30 business days after the secretary of state notifies counties that a sufficient number of registered voters signed the petition to initiate a recall election."

The election

The recall election must be called by the governor and held "not less than 60 days nor more than 80 days from the date of certification of sufficient signatures."

If the number of people eligible to vote at the next regularly scheduled election equates to at least 50 percent of those eligible to vote in the recall election, the recall election may be held "within 180 days from the date of certification of sufficient signatures in order that the election may be consolidated with the next regularly scheduled election occurring wholly or partially within the same jurisdiction in which the recall election is held."

At the recall election, if the majority of the votes are "yes," the official is removed. But if half or more of the votes are "no," the official will remain in office.

Voters will also choose a successor. "The candidate who receives the highest number of votes is the successor to the unexpired term of the recalled officer," the rules state—and the official facing recall is not allowed to stand.

"Nomination papers and the declaration of candidacy for state offices must be filed no less than 59 days prior to the date of the election and not before the day the order of the election is issued. The secretary of state will certify the names of the candidates by the 55th day prior to the election."

For more information, see the website of the office of the California secretary of state.

Gavin Newsom Recall Pasadena California 2021
Volunteers direct passers-by to a booth where activists are gathering signatures in the recall campaign against Governor Gavin Newsom in Pasadena on February 28. David McNew/AFP via Getty Images