WASHINGTON – Californians are heading to the polls Tuesday in order to decide whether to elect a Democratic governor. Gavin Newsom is out of office. Or at least, those who haven’t yet voted by mail.
California’s unusual recall election, triggered when anti-Newsom organizers collected the roughly 1.5 million signatures needed to put him on the ballot again, will ask voters to decide if Newsom should be fired and, if so, to pick a replacement governor from a list of 46 hopefuls alternatives, with firebrand conservative radio host Larry Elder leading in polls.
California — the nation’s most populous state and the world’s fifth largest economy — is facing a slew of challenges, from rising costs of living to wildfires and drought. And Newsom alienated some voters during the Covid-19 pandemic when he shut down businesses and instituted mask mandates, but was photographed dining maskless at one of the nation’s fanciest restaurants located in his state’s wine region.
In the summer polls showed that there was a neck-and–neck race among likely voters. However, Newsom seems to have gained strength as complacent Democrats who outnumber Republicans in the state by roughly two to one, started to get involved in the race, and plan to vote.
Most votes will be cast by mail since the state sent a ballot to all registered voters. All eligible ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday.
In-person voting is possible and will be used largely in conservatives. Many of these voters don’t trust mail ballots since former President Donald Trump has demonized them during his 2020 election.
Although it is possible to get results in a few days, particularly if there are close races, California has a slow process of counting votes.
Some results may not be available until polls close. However, officials can begin processing mail ballots that were received before Election Day. Analysts warn that these results will likely to be more Democratic than final voters, as many Republicans are expected not to wait to vote in person.
Newsom has portrayed the recall campaign as a right-wing power grab, and argued that Elder would not win California in a normal election. But in a recall, a narrow majority could vote to remove Newsom from office, then a small plurality could install Elder as the replacement, as long as he receives more votes than the 45 other candidates.
Elder, along with other Newsom critics, claim that the governor has not addressed major problems plaguing the state such as homelessness and more familiar national issues, like the fight over vaccine mandates and masks.
Recall elections can only be held in a few states. California’s last recall saw the removal of a former Democratic governor. Gray Davis was replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican actor.
If Newsom wins the recall, which will cost taxpayers an estimated $215million to conduct, he won’t get much rest on the campaign trail as he will face voters next year in his campaign for re-election.
Alex Seitz-Wald is senior digital politics reporter for NBC News.