How Long Would a New California Governor Be in Office if Gavin Newsom is Recalled?

The 46 recall candidates who appear on California's recall election ballot are campaigning in the hope of completing Governor Gavin Newsom's term, but even if the recall effort is successful, the winner may be in office for fewer than 15 months.

Californians will pick a new governor during the 2022 midterm elections next fall, regardless of the outcome of the statewide gubernatorial recall election taking place on September 14. Newsom, a Democrat serving his first term as governor, is set to remain in office until January 2, 2023, unless he is recalled.

If a majority of voters decide to remove Newsom, he will be replaced by whichever recall candidate receives the greatest number of votes. That candidate would then complete the term Newsom is serving, though they would have an opportunity to run for office again during the midterms.

Gavin Newsom recall replacement
If California Governor Gavin Newsom is recalled in the state's September 14 recall election, whomever voters choose to replace him will complete the term Newsom is currently serving, which ends on January 2, 2023. Above, a Recall Gavin Newsom billboard stands alongside farmland and U.S. Highway 99 though Tulare County in the Central Valley on August 26, 2021, near Pixley, California. PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

The exact date a replacement candidate would assume office to replace a recalled Newsom is uncertain and depends on how quickly the election results are certified. California Secretary of State Shirley Weber has 38 days after the election to certify the results, after which the replacement candidate with the most votes would be sworn in as the state's 41st governor.

Newsom can run for governor next year regardless of whether he wins or loses the recall. If he is recalled, the candidate voters choose to replace him would also be able to run for governor in next year's midterm election. The replacement candidate would be able to serve as governor beyond the term Newsom is currently serving only if they are elected next year to a full four-year term.

Only one other California governor has been removed from office by recall election. In 2003, Democrat Gray Davis lost his gubernatorial recall election less than a year after he won re-election, with more than 55 percent of voters casting their ballots in favor of his removal. Following the recall election, Davis was replaced by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, who beat out the 134 other candidates listed on that year's recall ballot, garnering more than 48 percent of the total votes cast.

The Recall Gavin Newsom petition that qualified for a ballot earlier this year is one of six recall efforts that have targeted Newsom since he began his term in 2019. Newsom was elected governor by a 23.8 percent margin over John Cox in 2018. Cox was that year's Republican gubernatorial candidate and is one of the 24 Republicans on the September 14 recall ballot.

As recall candidates campaigned in the final weeks before the special election, some cited the brief time they would have in office as a reason for voters to support them.

California State Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, who is running as a Republican in the recall election, encouraged voters during a debate last month to "take a chance on change."

"You're not signing on for four years, you're signing on for one year," Kiley said. "So you can see if things improve, and then if not, you can vote for a return to the way things are next year."

Kevin Paffrath, who has polled highest among the recall candidates running as Democrats, also encouraged voters to support him and use the next year to test out his proposed policies.

"Remember: The Recall Election ONLY gets someone elected for one year," Paffrath said on his website. "Giving Meet Kevin Paffrath a chance means you have the power to evaluate his performance again next year."