Tuesday, April 27, 2021

California: The Ball is in Newsom's court -- signature removal laws, spending issues and the signature failure rates

A few key points surrounding yesterday's news that California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) recall effort has got enough signatures to get on the ballot.

1. We don't have final signature numbers yet, but at last count there were 1,626,042 valid signatures. The petitioners turned in 2,117,730. They need 1,495,709 valid to make the ballot. I am not clear if there may be more valid signatures still to be reported. At the moment, that would break down to a 23.3% signature failure rate -- a bit worse than in the Gray Davis recall, but better than many other prominent ones in California.

2. The actual amount matters because the ball now moves into Newsom's court. Newsom is able to start gathering signatures for a counter-petition to get the recall removed. Anyone who signed the petition can now ask to have their names removed. If Newsom gets enough of those signatures in thirty days (at the moment, he would need over 130,000 of them), the recall would be dropped. Seems unlikely -- but it has happened before. 

3. One challenge here is that Newsom does not know who signed the recall petitions. That information is secret and a bill that would have allowed it to be revealed for future races (though not for Newsom) seems to have gone down in flames.

4. The signature removal (or signature strike) law has a long and not so glorious history that I recount in an op-ed in The Hill. A 1915 court ruling ended hopes for a signature removal law. But other states had it, including Nevada, which recently used it (though a judicial decision avoided explaining if the law is legal).

5. California adopted the signature strike law in 2017 in order to ward off a recall against State Senator Josh Newman (D). Part of the goal was also to delay the recall against Newman -- which potentially helps Newsom here. It did not work for Newman, though he did get a good number of signature removals. It did help Newport Beach Councilman Scott Peotter, who killed a recall attempt in 2017.

6. The first discussion is out on the cost of the recall -- not including campaign spending, just the cost to the state. Right now, we're hearing a $400 million. I would expect that the Democrats want to tout a very high number, so they can argue the recall is a waste of money, and Republicans want a low one. Dianne Feinstein used the "waste of money" argument to great effect in her 1983 San Francisco Mayoral recall and I would expect that it will be one of the pillars of the Newsom campaign (the other pillar being a straight D v. R argument that helped Newsom get a 24% margin in 2018).

7. It is always a challenge to figure out the cost -- we will not have an official number for over two months. 

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