Recalls are usually assumed to be pure democracy. Instead, next Tuesday’s California gubernatorial recall election will be a demonstration of minority rule.
Gov. Gavin Newsom became governor of the nation’s most populous state in 2018 with a landslide 62% of the vote. More than 12 million voters turned out. His margin of victory was 3 million votes.
Newsom is not being recalled for any alleged crimes in office. Although he attended dinner in a fancy wine-country bistro during the early COVID-19 lockdown, most Californians still approve of his handling of the pandemic, the historic wildfires, climate crisis issues and even crime.
Newsom is being recalled because California has a historic love affair with recalls. Also, it’s because Republicans cannot win elections when they are outnumbered statewide by those who don’t have a party preference, much less by Democrats.
There are 40 million Californians. The recall petition needed only approximately 1.5 million signatures. The hurdle is so low that a recall petition has been circulated against every California governor since 1960.
Tuesday’s ballot asks only two questions: Should Gov. Newsom be recalled? If the governor is recalled, who do you want to replace him? If at least 50% plus one vote yes, then voters’ top choice of 46 other candidates on the ballot will become governor.
The front runner is not a former San Diego mayor, celebrity Caitlyn Jenner, a porn actress, or a man who says he wants to learn about government. Radio talk show host Larry Elder, a far-right extremist who has already faced legal issues over his tax returns but has name recognition, leads the pack.
The odd timing and single issue on the ballot will likely produce low turnout, historically 33%. Elder could become governor with 600,000 votes; that would cancel the 2018 votes of 7.7 million people.
That would be a travesty.
Recalls originally were intended to remove officeholders for criminal acts or for egregious corruption of their official oaths. In California, recalls have become a way to overturn election results someone doesn’t like. It’s a phenomenon that could be disastrous.
Trust in the results of free and fair elections is fragile enough. Laws like California’s that open the door to minority rule need to be overhauled.
No state should be whiplashed by mistaken minority rule. California’s recall system is so bad that no other state should emulate it. The results could turn democracy on its head and invite chaos to ensue.
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