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Why was there a recall election in California?

The incumbent Gov. Gavin Newsom became only the second governor in California history to face a recall vote after a mask-wearing scandal last November.

The incumbent Gov. Gavin Newsom became only the second governor in California history to face a recall vote after a mask-wearing scandal last November.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning it was reported by the Associated Press (AP) that incumbent Gov. Gavin Newsom had secured enough votes to see off the threat of losing his job in the California recall election.

His victory ensures that the left-leaning state remains Democrat-led, but the fact that a recall election was triggered in such a traditionally ‘blue’ state will be of concern for the Democrats and Newsom in particular.

How are recall elections triggered in California?

In 19 states across the country there is constitutional mechanism that allows voters to oust state officials before the end of their term. Each of these states has their own rules governing recall elections.

To trigger a recall election in California at least 12% of the voters from the last election for the office must add their signatures to a petition calling for an election. This must also include at least 1% of the vote in counties. In total, 1,495,709 valid signature were needed to trigger a recall election against Gov. Newsom.

Initially the petition, initiated by Orrin Heatlie, a retired Republican sheriff’s sergeant in Northern California, struggled to gain traction. Usually petitioners would have 160 days to gather signatures but a court judge ruled that they could be given extra time, to compensate for the disruption caused by the pandemic. This proved decisive and by 29 April 2021 they informed the Secretary of State that they had secured the necessary votes.

Why was Gov. Gavin Newsom subject of a recall election?

Newsom made history in becoming only the second Californian governor in more than 80 years to face a recall election, thanks to two events last November that facilitated the Republican opposition. On 6 November a Sacramento Superior Court judge gave the petitioners four additional months to gather signatures for the recall, surprising the governor’s office who did not even send lawyers for oral arguments.

Later that day, Newsom was at the centre of a political firestorm after he was pictured at the Michelin-Starred French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley. The governor had been urging Californians to stay at home and wear masks to prevent the spread of covid-19, but was seen enjoying a maskless indoor meal with a group of friends.

Within just a month the petition had garnered another 500,000 signatures and, with the chances of a recall election soaring, it was jumped upon by conservative and right-wing new outlets across the state who saw it as a very real chance of assuming control of California.

Jerry Brown, a former four-term governor of California, said of the recall: “The destruction of so many businesses — there’s an acceleration of instability and therefore in the confidence that millions of people have in their future. That’s then a breeding ground for hostilities.”


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