Politico

California elections chief wants recall overhaul, possibly as soon as 2022


OAKLAND — California’s top elections official said Wednesday she supports updating the state’s recall system to make it “a fairer, more representative process,” adding to a growing movement a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom defeated an attempt to remove him from office.

“I’m probably the number one person who says we need to look at this process,” Secretary of State Shirley Weber told POLITICO in an interview, calling California an “outlier” in matters like the relatively low threshold to qualify a recall. “The process we have is old, it is difficult to implement, it is expensive, and it’s probably not very fair to everyone.”

Newsom just survived a recall election that drew criticisms of how California allows voters to oust elected officials. Critics argue that it is too easy to trigger a recall — signatures equal to 12 percent of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election — and warn the system undemocratically allows a sitting governor to be replaced by someone who gets fewer votes than the number cast to keep the incumbent.

California’s recall qualified largely on the backs of Republican voters, who are badly outnumbered by Democrats in voter registrations. Weeks ago, a handful of polls and Newsom’s campaign raised the prospect that discontent voters could remove the governor, while a small plurality could elect conservative talk-show host Larry Elder in his place.

Voters resoundingly rejected the recall on Tuesday, with 64 percent opposed to removing Newsom in the initial Election Night count.

Lawmakers have vowed to pursue changes that could overhaul the recall process as soon as next year. The Democrats who head the Legislature’s election committees are launching a series of hearings. Another state senator has promised to introduce constitutional amendments that would raise the required number of signatures and dictate that, when a governor is recalled, the lieutenant governor steps in.

Newsom has not taken a position, telling reporters on Wednesday that he would “leave that to more objective minds” and saying that he could still be subject to a future recall.

Weber is a former Democratic assemblymember who was appointed secretary of state in January by Newsom when predecessor Alex Padilla filled a U.S. Senate seat. She said she is not yet supporting any specific proposals, but plans to work with the Legislature to put a constitutional amendment before voters in 2022. Lawmakers can put proposed changes on the ballot with a two-thirds vote but voters must ultimately sign on.

“I’m hoping we can have a good honest discussion that won’t benefit any particular party,” Weber said. “I would love to see something on the ballot in 2022.”

Newsom is not the only California elected official to stare down a recall in the last year. Anti-incumbent fervor has led Californians to try and topple district attorneys, school board members and local elected officials. Weber said that the proliferation of recalls should increase public interest in re-examining the rules.

“I think the public is kind of waking up because before recalls didn’t happen very often, and when they did, someone did something really egregious,” Weber said, but now “we’re seeing it everywhere.”

“Evidently it’s something California is now into,” she said, “and we can see the expense of it.”

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