California’s Recall Laws in Focus

California is one of nineteen states that allows the recall of statewide officials. It is also one of two that has done so successfully, and the only one in the Twenty-First Century. The 2003 effort that brought down Governor Gray Davis was carried out after well over one million valid signatures was collected to bring the effort to the ballot.

The statewide election laws have not changed much since then, with similar measures remaining on the books. In order to successfully bring a measure to the ballot 12% of the number of people that voted in the last election must sign a petition calling for the recall of the named elected official. This must be done with a ballot question not longer than 200 words in length. The California Secretary of State website has a helpful guide on the process.

If the proponents of a recall election file paperwork with the Secretary of State, they then have 160 days to collect the number of signatures needed. If this is the case, an order is given by the Governor (or Lieutenant Governor if the recall is concerning the executive) and an election must be held within 60-80 days. If there is to be a statewide election within 180 days of the certification of signatures, the election may be moved to coincide with it. Candidates will then begin filing to be placed on the ballot in anticipation of whether or not the official will be recalled.

The wording for the recall is mandated by CA Elections Code 11320-11327 to be a simple, “Shall [name of officer sought to be recalled] be
recalled (removed) from the office of [title of office]?”

California’s successful efforts to recall Governor Davis has led to a groundswell of similar movements across the country. Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago is under similar pressure after it was revealed he covered up the release of damning police footage until after his re-election. CNN is reporting on a state legislator that is pushing for a change in law to allow a recall to move forward.

With the controversy swirling around Lt. Governor Newsom, it should be of no surprise that he is under the eye of law-abiding Californians that want to make sure that their state is governed in a way befitting a public official.