Governor Gavin Newsom | Credit: Courtesy

Joe Holland and his county elections staff have a scant 60 days to organize the next exercise of the right to vote, which will be the attempt to recall California Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday, September 14. What used to be an 88-day window to prepare ballots and find polling places has shrunk to two months, creating a sprint, rather than a run, for elections officials in California’s 58 counties, and also for Newsom’s opponents.

More than two million people signed petitions to recall Newsom, and the validity of 1.7 million of the signatures was announced by the Secretary of State’s office on July 1. On the same day, Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis set the recall date. Candidates have until July 16 to finalize their candidacy documents, which require them to have gathered signatures on petitions, had them validated, and then potentially pay filing fees (filing fees are waived if enough signatures are gathered). Any candidates to replace the governor would send their petition through their county elections office, which in turn would verify that the signatures collected are valid.

“We don’t know who’s going to be on the ballot yet,” said Joe Holland, Santa Barbara County’s Registrar of Voters, of the speed with which this election has been called. “We have a very tight timeline.” Holland and his staff were concentrating hard on the upcoming election to the exclusion of just about everything else. That will include hiring and training people to answer questions over the phone, and mailing sample ballots and voter guides, which can’t be compiled until candidates are verified. The election will be entirely vote-by-mail, though 25 polling places will also be established, once they’re located.

The recall election is estimated to cost the county $2.83 million, Holland said, and he didn’t know if the state would reimburse the funds. As a whole, the recall could cost the state about $276 million. The last time the state recalled a governor was in 2003, when 135 candidates ran to replace Gray Davis. Arnold Schwarzenegger won that contest. Holland said he didn’t yet know if anyone from Santa Barbara County planned to run. Already, high-profile candidates have appeared around the state, such as Caitlyn Jenner, a transgender icon; John Cox, who’s complained he’s been upstaged by the bear he brought on campaign stops; and Kevin Faulconer, a former mayor of San Diego.

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Political pundits note this is the sixth attempt to rid the state of Gavin Newsom and that the ballot effort was bankrolled mostly by two groups: California Patriot Coalition (formerly known as National Patriot’s Union) and California Revival PAC, each of which have reported more than $2.1 million in campaign donations. Other big-paying supporters are John Cox — who’s already put more than $5 million into his run for governor — and a group called Prov 3:9 LLC, reportedly funded initially by Orange County resident John Kruger with half a million. Spokesperson Thomas Liu sent a statement to news media that indicated Kruger wants Newsom out because of pandemic restrictions on religious gatherings.

The governor’s shutdown orders and other measures taken to protect Californians from COVID-19 have triggered the recall, some say, while the recall candidates point to homelessness, business hardships, and taxation. Newsom’s supporters claim the drive is more a push against the state’s progressive stances on immigration, health care, gun control, and other issues.

Santa Barbara County’s Republicans narrowly outmatch the no-party-preference vote at 25 versus 22 percent — or 60,000 versus 53,000 voters. Democrats in the county are at 46 percent, or 110,000 voters. If everyone votes, California’s 10.2 million registered Democrats, 5.3 million Republicans, and 5.2 million no-party-preference voters will decide the governorship come September 14.

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