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  • Pat Libby

What You Should Know About the Crazy California Recall

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

Last week I had lunch with an old friend who is MBA-educated, a leader in his field, and was completely clueless about how the current California gubernatorial recall election works.

If you live out-of-state, or live in this one and have been too busy to pay attention, this blog will explain what’s going on and what’s at stake.

Simply put: Democracy in California is at stake.

And, even though I am the wife of a playwright, I’m not being overly dramatic.

First, let me explain the process.

Since 1911, California’s constitution has allowed its citizens to recall office holders before their term expires. The process begins with a petition signed by voters. The signatures are certified by the CA Secretary of State. The number of verified signatures has to equal 12% of the number of votes casts in the previous election for that office.

Anyone who is a U.S. Citizen, a registered voter, has not been convicted of a felony involving bribery, embezzlement, or extortion, and has not previously served two terms of office since November 6, 1990 can run.

In this case, 46 people are running against the governor.

The reason this election is NOT democratic is this: In order to stay in office, the governor needs to win 50% of the vote. If he earns less than that, then whoever else among the 46 candidates wins the most votes, wins the election.

So, if the governor wins 49.9% of the vote, and someone wins 2% of the vote and that equals the most votes cast for a single candidate – they win the election and become the new governor!

As my people would say, that’s mishugenah.

Folks are confused about this election because the recall ballot provides each voter with two opportunities to weigh in on the governorship.

The first question on the ballot asks whether a voter would like to recall Governor Newsom. A YES vote is a vote to remove the governor; a NO vote is to keep him in office.

If half or more voters vote NO, Newsom will remain in office.

The second question on the ballot asks the voter to choose a candidate to replace the governor. Each voter – regardless of whether that person votes YES or NO on the first question, can choose a candidate to replace the Governor.

Even though you may have felt frustrated by something that Governor Newsom has done since he’s been elected (and who hasn’t), it’s patently unfair that someone could become governor because a tiny minority of people supported that person’s campaign.

It’s not democratic. It doesn’t reflect the power of the people. It’s not fair.


If you need to, you can check your voting status by clicking on this link:


Pat Libby is a nonprofit consultant and author of The Lobbying Strategy Handbook: 10 Steps to Advancing Any Cause Effectively, Oxford University Press. She has served as an academic, senior executive, board member, and consultant to innumerable nonprofit organizations and foundations for more than three decades.

Get in touch with questions or to get more information!


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