Fact Check: Did California Verify Signatures for Newsom Recall But Not Mail-In Ballots?

Last year, the movement to recall Gavin Newsom began after growing frustration over the Democratic California governor's leadership.

Organizers of Recall Gavin 2020 and Rescue California cited several reasons why Newsom has "failed Californians," including rising unemployment, homelessness, high taxes, a rise in crime, lack of affordable housing, a failure to enforce immigration laws and his move to "overrule the will of the people regarding the death penalty."

Rescue California is a political committee that also aided in the recall of California Governor Gray Davis in 2003. According to its website, the purpose of Rescue California is to "augment the current recall efforts by circulating petitions and validating signatures to ensure the qualification for and scheduling of a special election to recall Governor Newsom."

The movement gained momentum in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many Californians grew increasingly upset over Newsom's lockdown policy, vaccine rollout and after photos circulated online of a maskless Newsom eating dinner with lobbyists inside the French Laundry restaurant.

As of February 10, the recall petition had reached more than 1.5 million signatures, according to Rescue California chair and former California Republican Party Chair Thomas Del Beccaro.

EVERYONE: We have over 1.5 mill raw signatures but they are not all verified. My message is that 1.5m sounds great but is NOT ENOUGH. To ensure qualification we need 1.9 million. https://t.co/AagEb5mh6v https://t.co/nwN1JOxL5I

— Thomas Del Beccaro (@tomdelbeccaro) February 11, 2021

California law says petitions for the recall of state executive officials "must be signed by voters equal in number to 12 percent of the last vote for that office, and must include at least five counties equal in number to 1 percent of the last vote for that county." According to the Rescue California recall website, this means 1,495,709 valid signatures are the minimum requirement for Newsom's recall.

The Claim

The recall effort was granted an extension to gather required signatures, which are now due March 17. Counties have until April 29 to verify the signatures.

Some people expressed frustration online over the need to check the validity of signatures on the recall petition.

Actor Kevin Sorbo tweeted that California is requiring signature verification for Newsom's recall petition but did not require the same verification for mail-in ballots from the November 2020 election.

So California is requiring signature verification for Gavin Newsom’s recall, but didn’t require it for the mail in ballots. How strange

— Kevin Sorbo (@ksorbs) February 15, 2021

The Facts

CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale addressed the tweet, claiming it was false.

"California did verify the signatures of people who voted by mail in 2020," Dale said. "Counties checked the signatures on ballot envelopes against the signatures on file in voter registration records."

It does not require a Herculean effort to figure out this viral claim is false.

California did verify the signatures of people who voted by mail in 2020. Counties checked the signatures on ballot envelopes against the signatures on file in voter registration records. pic.twitter.com/KTqUVmjB6Z

— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) February 15, 2021

The Twitter account for the office of California secretary of state shared a section of the California State Code that outlines the signature verification process.

FACT: CA county elections officials verify the signatures on EVERY
✅vote-by-mail ballot
✅initiative, referendum, or recall petition
✅candidate nomination document.

*Source:https://t.co/Laj17g6qk0 pic.twitter.com/RNtbU6FOM8

— CA SOS Vote (@CASOSvote) February 15, 2021

In a statement to Newsweek, the California Secretary of State office confirmed that county election officials verify the signatures on every vote-by-mail ballot, initiative, referendum, or recall petition, and candidate nomination document.

According to the California State Code of Regulations, "for signature verification, the elections official must compare the signature on an initiative, referendum, recall, nominating petition or paper, signature in-lieu of filing fee, and any other petition or paper must be compared to the voter's signature(s) in the voter's registration record. In addition, the elections official must compare the signature on a voted vote-by-mail envelope and a voted provisional ballot envelope to the voter's signature(s) in the voter's registration record prior to counting a ballot."

California code also states that every person who signs the recall petition must be a registered voter in the jurisdiction of the official against whom the recall attempt is being pursued. If the signer is not a registered voter in California, the signature will not be counted. If the petition submitted contains more than 500 signatures, the election officials may use a random sampling method to check the validity of the signatures.

While the signature verification process may vary slightly from county to county, state officials said the verification process "should generally be the same whether they are reviewing ballots or petitions."

Prior to the November 2020 election, California was preparing for a record-breaking number of mail-in and drop-off ballots before election day.

According to election officials, the two-step signature verification process involved running ballots through a sorter that takes a photo of the signature on the ballot envelope and compares it to the voter's signature on file.

"If it doesn't feel like it's a complete match, it kicks it out of the system and into the file of some of our human eyes that look at the signature [on the envelope] and the signature we have on file to determine if they feel like it's a match," Sacramento County Public Information Officer Janna Haynes said in October 2020.

If the signatures didn't pass those tests, the department said it would reach out to the voter and request they submit a new signature.

"I want voters to be confident that just because their signature doesn't match doesn't mean we automatically trash their ballot. We do make every effort to reach out to voters to ask them to submit a new signature...we work really hard to make sure every vote counts," Haynes said.

The Ruling

False.

According to the California Code of Regulations, signatures on both mail-in ballots and recall petitions must undergo a verification process.

Gavin Newsom
California Governor Gavin Newsom is interviewed while visiting the Hot and Cool Cafe in Los Angeles on June 3, 2020. Genaro Molina/Getty