California Recall Voter Guide: How to Vote in the Election

Here’s everything you need to know to vote in the California gubernatorial recall election on Sept. 14.

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The two questions Californians have been asked are simple: Should Gov. Gavin Newsom be removed from his job? And if so, who should take his place?

But as the Sept. 14 special election date to decide Mr. Newsom’s political fate comes into clearer view, many of the state’s 22 million registered and active voters have found themselves with questions — about what’s at stake and how to ensure their voices are heard.

Here’s what voters need to know:

When is the recall election?

Officially, the recall election is on Sept. 14. But because it is happening under an extension of pandemic rules that were created during the 2020 presidential election, that’s really more of a deadline than it is an Election Day in a more traditional sense.

Ballots returned by mail must be postmarked by Sept. 14. (You don’t need to add a stamp; you should have a return envelope.) Voters can also return their ballots to a secure drop box by Sept. 14 at 8 p.m. (Look up the ones closest to you here.)

Finally, voters can cast ballots in person — and in many places early voting is available. (You can find early voting locations here.)

How can I vote in the recall election?

All registered and active California voters should have received a ballot by mail in the past couple of weeks. You can mail that ballot back or drop it in a drop box. You can also vote in person.

Where can I drop off my ballot?

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Carrying a box of ballots for sorting at the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters office in San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday.Credit…Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

You can look up ballot drop boxes near you on the California Secretary of State’s website. You can also mail the ballot back.

How do I check to see if I’m registered to vote?

You can check whether you’re registered to vote here. If you’re not registered within 14 days of an election, in California, you can also register the day of the vote. (So, in this case, on Sept. 14.) You can learn more about same-day voter registration here.

Who are the candidates vying to replace Governor Newsom?

There are 46 candidates listed on the ballot, a mix of politicians, entertainers and business people that includes the Olympian and reality television star Caitlyn Jenner; the businessman John Cox, who is campaigning with a Kodiak bear; and Kevin Paffrath, a YouTube personality who in a debate suggested he’d solve California’s water problems with a pipeline to the Mississippi River.

The California Recall Election

Understand the Recall Election: These 12 questions help explain the historical, political and logistical forces behind the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom of California.Can Newsom Survive?: The vote is expected to come down to whether Democrats can mobilize enough of the state’s base to counteract Republican enthusiasm for Mr. Newsom’s ouster. If a majority of voters decide to recall Mr. Newsom, the new governor will be whoever among his 46 challengers gets the most votes, even if no rival gets a majority. Larry Elder, a conservative radio host, has emerged as the front-runner.How Newsom Got Here: The campaign to recall the state’s governor shows that even a one-party stronghold like California can be rocked by the nation’s political polarization.The Pandemic’s Impact on the Election: The recall has highlighted the differences between the powerhouse California that elected Mr. Newsom and the virus-battered California he now governs. And it has raised a question for all governors: Are 2020’s leaders still what is needed in 2021?

Also on the ballot are the pink Corvette-driving Hollywood enigma Angelyne and a Green Party candidate, Dan Kapelovitz, whose official candidate bio says, simply, “Can you dig it?”

San Diego’s former mayor Kevin Faulconer, who is considered a moderate Republican, is also running and is a serious contender. Analysts say his candidacy may also be part of a broader effort to boost his profile ahead of a run for governor during the regular election next year.

Kevin Kiley, a Republican state assemblyman and frequent antagonist of the governor, is also on the ballot. About half of the candidates are Republicans.

But it is the conservative talk radio host Larry Elder who has emerged as a front-runner almost overnight, leveraging national name recognition. He has drawn criticism from both Democrats and Republicans but has a large and fervent base of fans.

The Republican Doug Ose, a former congressman, will appear on the ballot, but he has stopped campaigning and has endorsed Mr. Kiley after having a heart attack.

Can you write in a replacement candidate?

You can, but if it’s Gavin Newsom, it won’t count. Your write-in vote also will not count unless your preferred write-in candidate is on the state’s certified list of write-in candidates.

Can Newsom run as a replacement candidate?

No, and you can’t write him in. (See above.) California law prohibits the incumbent from being listed in a recall as a replacement candidate.

If I oppose the recall, can I still pick a candidate to replace him?

Yes.

Who has Newsom recommended as a replacement candidate?

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The conservative talk radio host Larry Elder emerged as a front-runner almost overnight.Credit…Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

No one. In fact, Mr. Newsom has encouraged voters to skip that question entirely. (Just as long as they vote “No” on the question of whether he should be recalled.)

Do I have to answer both questions on the ballot?

No — your vote will count even if you answer just one.

Will there be any other statewide measures on the ballot?

No, only the recall. There wasn’t enough time for any ballot initiatives to qualify.

When will we know the results of the election?

After Election Day, county election officials have to complete their work receiving and counting ballots, although we may have some idea of the vote by then, since more than two million ballots have already been returned and more are expected to come in as we get closer.

Thirty-eight days after the election, if the recall is successful, the California Secretary of State will certify the election results and the new governor will be sworn in.

What if Governor Newsom is recalled, but he still has more support than any challenger on the ballot?

It doesn’t matter. The recall question is determined by majority vote. If more than 50 percent of the voters vote yes on the recall, Mr. Newsom must step down as governor.

The replacement question is determined by who gets the most votes among the challengers on the ballot. So 49.9 percent of the voters can back Mr. Newsom, and he can still lose to someone who is supported by only, say, 20 percent of the electorate. On the replacement question, the winner does not need a majority to be named the next governor.

If Governor Newsom is recalled, how long will the new governor be in office?

The new governor would be in office for the remainder of Mr. Newsom’s term, which would be through Jan. 2, 2023. (California has a regularly scheduled election for governor next year.)

What are the key issues driving the recall?

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Recall supporters in Carlsbad, Calif., in June.Credit…Mike Blake/Reuters

Initially, the Republicans who started the recall disagreed with Mr. Newsom on issues like the death penalty and his opposition to President Donald Trump‘s policies. The effort was widely viewed as a long shot.

Then two particular factors boosted the campaign: A judge allowed more time for leaders of the recall to gather signatures because of pandemic lockdowns. And growing frustration among some Californians over health restrictions came to a head when Mr. Newsom was seen dining maskless with lobbyists at an expensive, exclusive Napa Valley restaurant called the French Laundry after asking Californians to wear masks and stay home.

As the pandemic dragged on, recall supporters focused their arguments on the governor’s response, criticizing it as overly restrictive. Prolonged school closuresdrew ire during the last school year, as did pandemic unemployment fraud.

More recently, proponents have argued that broader social ills such as homelessness have worsened during Mr. Newsom’s tenure, that Democrats have de facto one-party rule in California and that the high cost of living is driving Californians out.

Mr. Newsom’s Democratic allies charge that the effort is an undemocratic far-right power grab by Trumpian extremists who would otherwise never see a Republican elected to California’s top state office.

They also note that if U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s term ends prematurely, the governor will appoint her replacement, which could flip the balance of power in the U.S. Senate and allow Republicans to block, for example, President Biden’s nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mr. Newsom’s supporters have lauded the governor’s handling of the pandemic, citing California’s relative success in controlling the virus, record state aid for families and businesses hurt by the pandemic and California’s swift rebound to economic health.

Who is funding the campaigns for and against the recall?

The recall is being funded mostly by conservative and Republican donors. Geoff Palmer, a Southern California real estate developer and Donald Trump supporter, for instance, has donated more than $1 million. John Kruger, an Orange County charter school supporter who objected to pandemic restrictions on religious gatherings, donated $500,000 to the recall at an early key point. The Republican Party has pumped money into the effort, as have national figures such as Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor.

California law treats the recall question as a ballot issue, which means the campaigns for and against the recall can accept unlimited donations. The replacement candidates, however, must abide by a $32,400-per-election limit on individual contributions.

Among individual campaigns with the most money, those who have donated the maximum to Mr. Elder largely reflect the recall’s broader funding, with substantial contributions from conservative and Trump-supporting Republicans. Mr. Faulconer’s top donors include more moderate Republicans such as William Oberndorf, a major G.O.P. donor who opposed Mr. Trump’s election, and a variety of business interests. Mr. Cox, a Republican who lost in 2018 to Mr. Newsom, has largely self-funded his campaign.

The recall opposition is being funded mostly by establishment interests and Democrats. The founder of Netflix, Reed Hastings, has donated $3 million to defend Mr. Newsom, for example. Show business and Silicon Valley have heavily donated against the recall. Labor groups — unions for teachers, prison guards, health workers and other public employees — have made major donations. So have tribal organizations in the state and major business groups such as the California Association of Realtors and chambers of commerce. All the donations to replacement candidates, put together, are still smaller than the governor’s war chest.

Do California newspapers endorse the recall?

The Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Mercury News, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Sacramento Bee have urged voters to vote no on the recall, arguing that, at a cost of some $276 million, it is a waste of money or that the time to vote for or against the governor is next year, when he runs for re-election.

The Orange County Register, which is traditionally a right-of-center opinion page, recommends a yes vote and endorsed Mr. Elder in an editorial that was picked up by some suburban papers under the same ownership in Southern California.

The Bakersfield Californian recommends a yes vote and endorsed Mr. Faulconer.

How do I track my ballot?

You can track when your vote-by-mail ballot is mailed, received and counted at california.ballottrax.net/voter.

Where can I get more detailed information?

Here is an expanded explainer. Here is the California Secretary of State’s guide to the recall.

Here is a guide from the nonprofit, nonpartisan news site CalMatters to Governor Newsom’s record. And here is a recent debate among Mr. Paffrath, Mr. Cox, Mr. Kiley and Mr. Faulconer.

Here, via CalMatters, are interviews with Mr. Elder, Mr. Kiley, Mr. Cox and Mr. Paffrath, a Fox News interview with Caitlyn Jenner and an interview that The Sacramento Bee did with Mr. Faulconer.

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