Wednesday, January 13, 2021

California: How California has the easiest signature requirement for Governor in the country

There has been significant movement on the sixth recall attempt against Governor Gavin Newsom (D), with reports that Newsom's team is nervous and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee endorsing the effort. Petitioners claim to have gotten over 1 million signatures already. They need 1495709 valid signatures.

The recall gained some a bit of propulsion due to a group outing that Newsom took to the French Laundry restaurant. This recall effort lists a kitchen sink grouping of reasons, though it is focused on the economic damage of the coronavirus pandemic. The lead petitioner is Yolo County Deputy Sheriff Orrin Heatlie, and one of the supporters is Tom Del Beccaro, the former Chairman of the California Republican Party. Two potential candidates have received attention as candidates: former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and former gubernatorial candidate John Cox, who lost to Newsom by more than 20% in 2018.

Getting on the ballot is an achievement, but it does need to be put in context. Among the 19 or 20 states (Virginia's recall law is unclear) that allow recalls for Governors, California has the easiest recall to get on the ballot. Petitioners need only to gather 12% of the votes cast in the last election (5% in every district), and they have a leisurely 160 days to do it. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, they were granted an additional 120 days. 

As a comparison, In 2012, Wisconsin required petitioners to amass 25% of the vote for the governor's office in the last election. They only had 60 days to do it. Wisconsin did have one (very unusual) leniency (the signers only had to be eligible voters, not registered voters).

State laws vary greatly across the country. The divides are generally:

1) Is there a legal reason needed for the recall;

2) how many signatures need to be gathered;

3) who can sign, and;

4) how much time is allowed to collect the signatures. 

11 States are "political recall states" and eight are (broadly defined) what I call malfeasance standard/Judicial Recall states. Nearly state-level recalls are in political recall states (California, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Oregon, Idaho, Michigan, Arizona, Colorado). The only state officer to ever face a recall vote in a malfeasance standard state was a state Senator in Washington in 1981

The signatures required and who can sign vary. It is here that California is noteworthy. The signature laws vary over whether the total needed is decided based on a percentage of how many voters turned out at the last election or how a percentage of how many voters are registered or eligible in the state. Obviously, any state that uses the turnout standard will require significantly fewer signatures.

Nine States requires signatures of 25% of turnout; 

One state requires 40% of turnout; 

One state requires 25% of registered voters;

Two states require 20% of eligible voters; 

Two states require 15% of eligible voters;

Two states require 15% of turnout; 

One state requires 10% of eligible voters (Montana, a malfeasance state)

One state requires 10% of turnout, but this is Virginia, which has recall trials rather an election.

The only states that have lower requirements have strict laws that effectively prevent recalls. 

California's time limit is the fifth most of any state (Alaska has no time limit; New Jersey grants 320 days; Washington gives 270 and Louisiana gives 180). So this gives voters a significant amount of time to get the recall going. 

California also has the benefit of having a developed signature gathering industry. This has made it much easier to get on the ballot than other states.

Hopefully, after an op-ed of mine comes out, I'll explain why getting on the ballot may be easy, but winning is another story. 

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