Unlike the sprawling shapes Californians usually face in the polling booths, the ballots for Governor Gavin Newsom’s recall election ask only two questions:
Should Newsom be recalled? And who should replace him?
But if my inbox is any indication, the short vote is far from easy.
I’ve been getting questions from recall opponents who want to know if answering the second question will invalidate their “no” vote on the first (it won’t). Some Democrats are seeking guidance in choosing the least conservative Republican replacement, in case the recall succeeds. And many voters are confused as to why Newsom told people to ignore the second question all together.
“The biggest confusion of this election is what your rights are to run in the replacement election,” Raphael Sonenshein, the executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles, told me. “Voting should be easy, and this is not so easy.”
A tricky political calculus for Democrats
California’s quirky recall laws dating back to 1911 bear most of the blame for this mess.
Reminders here are a two-step process: voters decide whether to remove a candidate from office and also who to replace. (There are some states where the lieutenant governor automatically takes over from a recalled governor, but in most states, voters choose the replacement.)
The unusual thing about California law is that both elections must take place on the same day, on the same ballot. And the incumbent, in this case Newsom, will not be allowed to participate in the replacement election.
So that leaves the Democrats to negotiate a tricky political calculus: How do you support a replacement candidate if you don’t want the governor replaced at all?
Well, there’s option A: support a politically aligned Democrat in the replacement race and hope the candidate isn’t so popular that people vote to recall Newsom because they prefer the backup. Or, option B: ignore the second question and focus on the first.
The latter seems to be Newsom’s strategy. “One question. One answer. No to the recall. Continue. Send the ballot,” the governor said recently.
In the 2003 recall election of another Democratic governor, Gray Davis, the party went the other way. Cruz Bustamante, the popular Democratic lieutenant governor, ran as a replacement candidate. But when Davis was impeached, he was replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican candidate.
Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at Wagner College’s Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform, said there is no evidence that having a prominent candidate from your party on the replacement ballot increases your chances of remaining in office. In other words, Newsom’s strategy may be the best way for him to win the recall.
“When you’re in the majority, it makes a lot of sense to have a stark choice, and having two different people to vote for isn’t a stark choice,” Spivak said. “The view of saying ‘Ignore the second question’ I think is particularly bad, but not necessarily the logic behind it, which makes a lot of sense.”
Bustamante himself, who now runs a consulting firm, told The Los Angeles Times last month that he supported the party’s decision not to approve a replacement. In his own mood, he said, he left the second question blank.
The downside of leaving ballots blank
Yet there is confusion.
In a poll released Wednesday, 49 percent of likely voters said they would not answer the second question or did not know who to vote for. Some California newspapers voting against the recall have recommended leaving the second question blank, while others have urged the opposite.
I’ve gotten a handful of emails from people saying they wrote in Newsom’s name for the second question, even though they knew it wouldn’t count. They just didn’t know what else to do.
Jessica Levinson, who teaches suffrage at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said it was a “disaster” that members of the Democratic Party, who are believed to be champions of the right to vote, are advising people to leave parts of their ballots blank.
“Why would you say you’re not even exercising your right to determine who the next governor might be?” she said.
Levinson added that it was strategic for the Democratic Party not to support an alternative to Newsom. He will most likely run for governor again in 2022, she said, and it would be easier to win against a Republican, especially one who only got a small fraction of the vote in the recall election.
NewsMadura has answers to your frequently asked questions about the recall election. Scroll to the bottom of the page for links to California newspaper recommendations.
Democrats hope the new Texas law banning most abortions will motivate voters to support their party. Newsom warned on Twitter this week that the Texas ban “could be CA’s future” if the recall is successful. Read more from my colleague Reid J. Epstein on the political ripples of Texas law.
In case you missed it, a poll released Wednesday shows strong support for Newsom, with 58 percent of likely voters saying they would reject the recall. Read more from Politico.
In 1911, California voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that made the state the third to allow recalls. I wrote about the history of recalls this week.
More than five million ballots have already been handed in. Stay informed here.
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In her latest newsletter, Tejal Rao, the California restaurant critic of The Times, shares recipes with panzanella, which give stale bread a second life.
Where we are traveling
Today’s travel tip comes from Mackenzie Skye, a reader who recommends a visit to Mendocino, which she calls “truly one of the most beautiful places.”
Tell us about the best places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected] We will share more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
What we recommend
This week I read “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art” by journalist James Nestor. It’s not easy to write about biology and medicine in a light-hearted, even funny way, but Nestor succeeds.
And before you go, good news
The Dapper Dans, the pinstripe-clad, straw hat-wearing, a cappella singing group, returns to Disneyland on Friday.
The barber quartet will return to Main Street USA as part of the next phase of the park’s reopening, The Orange County Register reports.
The group had its first rehearsal last week after the pandemic kept 17 months apart. The Dance prepare Halloween dance numbers and songs, plus a bonus.
“We’re working on something extra,” John Glaudini, a Disney Live Entertainment music producer, told the newspaper. “A little gift.”
Thank you for reading. I’ll be back on Tuesday. Enjoy your long weekend. — Soumya
PS Here is today’s mini crossword, and a clue: Beach house support (5 letters).
Steven Moity and Miles McKinley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].
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