Well, that was a spectacular waste of time and money—$278 million—to stage a recall in which the incumbent beat back forty-some challengers while garnering a 66%-34% win.
You would think that California, which has not jumped on the bandwagon of rewriting election laws the way 18 other states have, would’ve been free from the Sturm and Drang of electoral politics, including a recall election, particularly since there’s only a year left in the governor’s term.
How silly is our recall law? This silly: The incumbent must receive a majority of the vote to remain in office, but if they don’t, a challenger wins with a plurality. In practical terms, that means we could have had a replacement governor who got only 18% of the vote. Upside down, huh?
The law was created by reformers a century ago to hold the powerful railroad lobby to account. It has been invoked against each sitting governor since 1960. The 2003 Gray Davis recall that gave us the Governator was the only one to get to the election phase until now.
Over the last decade or so, as the demographics of America have changed, we’ve seen ever increasing anti-democratic and anti-majoritarian efforts take flight, supplied oxygen, money, and press from an entrenched Republican party that now says the quiet thing out loud: they have to tilt the playing field, for they cannot win in a fair fight.
I’m a big fan of majority rules. In every election since student council, the winner was the person who got the most votes. Shouldn’t the challenger—not the incumbent, who has already won a general election—have to get more votes than the incumbent? Instead, it’s the other way around.
Rather than addressing our biggest problems, tribal concerns use up all the oxygen in the room. We play small-ball as we ignore the things that truly and existentially threaten us.
The front-running challenger, conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder, wanted us all to know that “When I become governor there will no face mask or vaccine mandates—any in place will be immediately revoked.” This from a Tweet that featured a picture of him displaying the thumbs-up sign with his hero, Donald Trump. I guess he thought he was running in Alabama. He’s also awful on women’s issues, hates the minimum wage, and is a climate change denier. Unreflective of California’s population, he gamed a vulnerable system.
Chris Elmendorf, a professor at the University of California, Davis, School of Law, who studies elections, told the New York Times, “The system as it’s designed allows a minority faction that really has no hope of winning statewide election to get a recall on the ballot.”
The idea that we had to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a recall election when there’s to be a General Election next year is wasteful in the extreme. Other states have more efficient methods to rid themselves of political pariahs.
In California it takes 20% of General Election voters to recall judges, but only 12% of them to get a gubernatorial recall election slated. In Kansas, which is not exactly famous for evenhandedness, the number is 40%. Most other states that have a recall provision set it at 25% of the number of voters in the General.
This would make more sense: if, say less than 20% of the General Election voters, sign a recall petition, only then do we fund a new election. And with less than two years left in the term, instead of a new expensive election, we could have the Lieutenant Governor or another constitutional officer serve out the term. Still others think that recalls should be held only in cases of malfeasance and/or criminal activity. We could also cut costs by holding hold recalls in conjunction with scheduled elections.
It was sadly inevitable in this political climate that Republicans—who recognize that they can’t currently win a statewide election in California—would resort to the money-wasting recall. It was also inevitable that they would proclaim the Recall Election to be fraudulent even before the vote was taken. Such are the times we line in.
Tired of the rhetorical nonsense, when asked by the Washington Post whether he agreed with Donald Trump’s statement that the California vote was fixed, former chair of the California Republican Party, Ron Nehring, tweeted: “Voter fraud? Where’s the evidence? This pattern of whining [that] any election we don’t win must be fraudulent is both bad politics, and bad policy.”
We have real problems: we are at each other’s throats; we’re in a fight for our lives against a deadly virus; extreme weather has the East Coast under water and the West Coast on fire.
Most of our problems are hard to solve. This one is easy.
©2021 Jon Sinton