California governor extends all-mail voting through a potential recall

California governor extends all-mail voting through a potential recall
© getty: California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D)

California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomCalifornia to replace 'alien' with 'noncitizen,' 'immigrant' in state laws The Memo: Trump's Arizona embarrassment sharpens questions for GOP California to launch program tracking violent deaths in LGBTQ+ community MORE (D) on Friday signed legislation that could dramatically upend an effort to recall him from office that is gaining steam ahead of a March deadline.

Newsom signed a bill that will require county election officials to mail absentee ballots to every registered voter for elections held in 2021, extending an emergency order covering last year’s contests, made in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill passed the legislature by a supermajority vote, allowing it to take effect immediately. No Republican voted for the legislation, though state Assemblyman Chad Mayes, an independent and former Republican, voted in favor.

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The new law would cover a potential recall election if Newsom’s opponents succeed in gathering the signatures they need to force Newsom to defend himself by a mid-March deadline.

California’s Secretary of State’s office said that through Feb. 5, it had verified 668,202 signatures of the 1,495,709 recall advocates need to turn in to force the recall. Another 300,000 signatures had yet to be processed, but recall advocates said they had collected about 1.7 million total signatures.

Recall and ballot initiative campaigns in California typically submit hundreds of thousands more signatures than they actually need to account for those that will be invalidated or thrown out. About 16 percent of the signatures the recall advocates have turned in have been invalid, a higher validation rate than is typical of a signature-gathering campaign.

Extending the vote-by-mail program through the year is likely to aid Democratic efforts to stymie the recall, putting ballots in the hands of voters who might not otherwise have showed up to a polling place to vote. Those who want to recall a governor have more incentive to show up to vote than those who would otherwise vote against a recall.

“It will result in a lot of ballot harvesting,” said John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College. “Unlike last year, when COVID fears led them to curtail personal contact, Democrats will resume door-to-door collection of ballots.”

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But proponents of the recall said extending vote-by-mail could aid them, too, as anger over Newsom’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the state’s economy grows.

“He and his cronies at the state capitol are trying to change the rules in the middle of the game,” said Randy Economy, a spokesman for the recall campaign. “You have a very angry electorate out there right now, and if everybody has access to a ballot during a recall election he may have just sealed his own fate.”

Thad Kousser, who chairs the political science department at the University of California-San Diego, said the new law is unlikely to have a major impact in part because so many Californians vote by mail already. More than 86 percent of California voters cast a ballot by mail in 2020.

California political experts say Newsom is already in a far better position than the last governor who was subject to a recall, Gray Davis. In 2003, Democrats held an 8-point registration advantage over Republicans; 55 percent of the 9.4 million voters who showed up voted to recall Davis, installing Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger in his place.

This year, there is no candidate of Schwarzenegger’s profile who has signaled they will run. The most prominent Republicans who are running, former San Diego Mayor Kevin FaulconerKevin FaulconerRepublicans trapped in a media prison of their own making Seven takeaways from California's recall election Newsom easily beats back recall effort in California MORE (R), businessman John Cox (R), lack the global profile Schwarzenegger commanded.

And the state is much different, too. Today, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by a nearly two-to-one margin, according to the secretary of state’s latest report. Newsom won 7.7 million votes in 2018, when he beat Cox by almost 24 percentage points. President BidenJoe BidenHaiti prime minister warns inequality will cause migration to continue Pelosi: House must pass 3 major pieces of spending legislation this week Erdoğan says Turkey plans to buy another Russian defense system MORE carried the state by 29 points last year.