California’s Election to Recall Governor Gavin Newsom

By Tanveer Kaur

This recall petition is the sixth and seemingly most successful attempt at a recall election targeted at Mr. Newsom (Photo Credit: Anne Wernikoff/CalMatters)

One of the most fascinating mysteries of the moment is how a Democratic star in one of the most Democratic states is facing a recall for his position as Governor. The drive to unseat Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) has become only the second recall attempt against a California governor to qualify for the ballot, thanks to a perfect storm of political fury and pandemic upheaval.


A special election has been scheduled for September 14, after the Democrats who control California's state Legislature voted to accelerate the process. This expedition was designed to help the governor in profiting off of public goodwill as the state reopened from the pandemic.

After 1911, when California authorized recalls as part of a larger Progressive-era reform package, 179 recall petitions against state officeholders were filed. In California, recalling a governor is easier than in nearly any other state, and every governor since 1960 has faced at least one.


In California, a recall petition must be signed by 12 percent of the registered voters who voted in the last governor's election. The organizers are not required to provide a justification for the recall, but they typically do. The petition must include at least one percent of the total votes in its previous election for the office in at least five counties. The advocates have 160 days to collect signatures. The California secretary of state must then evaluate and authenticate the signatures. If the petitions get the necessary number of legitimate signatures (1,495,709 in this case), voters who signed have 30 business days to change their minds. Mr. Newsom's critics amassed over 1.7 million signatures, and voters had until June 8 to reassess. Only 43 voters decided to remove their signatures.


Candidates for governor must be U.S. citizens registered to vote in California and pay a filing fee of approximately $4,000 or provide signatures from 7,000 backers. They cannot be convicted of certain crimes, nor can they be the governor facing recall.


This recall petition is the sixth and seemingly most successful attempt at a recall election targeted at Mr. Newsom. All three groups of petitioners were conservatives who, at first, used conventional reasons to oppose the governor's liberal positions on topics such as the death penalty, immigration, gun control, and taxation.


In the 2020 election, almost six million Californians voted for Donald J. Trump. That is almost quadruple the number of signatures required to get a recall on the ballot, and these were the voters targeted as potential signees for the petition. In general, California may be less liberal than its reputation suggests.