The County Voice

Elections, Elections, Elections

In “normal” times, the year after the decennial Census would leave elections officials fully focused on the redistricting process. But, as we’re all painfully aware, we threw normal out the window in 2020. In addition to redistricting—a topic for another day—California is now facing a triple threat of elections: a potential gubernatorial recall, two special elections, and a slate of interesting ballot measures. We’ll be wading through these situations to help counties prepare for another unique and challenging election cycle.


California is one of only 19 states to allow voters to remove statewide officials before the end of their term. While recall attempts are common, there have only ever been two successful gubernatorial recalls in United States history, including the 2003 recall of California Governor Gray Davis. Will California make history, once more, as the only state to recall two Governors?

Last week marked a critical deadline to make the recall election a reality, and proponents say they submitted 2.1 million signatures in support of their efforts. In order to trigger a recall election, the campaign will need just shy of 1.5 million of those signatures to be found valid by county elections offices. According to the most recent validation report from the Secretary of State’s office, county election officials have verified 1,188,073 of the necessary 1,454,710 signatures so far and will have until April 29 to finish their certification.

Given how many signatures have already been found valid, the potential for a recall seems likely. However, the timing is much less clear. While there are several hard and fast deadlines in a recall process, many dates are more loosey-goosey, either because there is no set timing or because they are dependent on other, less firm dates. Once enough signatures to qualify have been verified, individual petition signers have 30 days to withdraw their signatures if they so choose. Once all signatures have been verified and the withdrawal period has closed, a number of administrative procedures are triggered, including a cost estimate from the Department of Finance and input from the Legislature. Given how much is still up the air, estimates for when the potential 2021 recall election could take place range from August to December.

Special Elections

Whether or not it qualifies, the recall isn’t the only election to take place this year. On April 6, Assembly District 79 (San Diego County) will hold a primary election to fill the seat of Dr. Shirley Weber, who was appointed Secretary of State by Governor Newsom. There are five declared candidates on the ballot, and if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote during the primary election, a general election will take place on June 8.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles County, Assembly District 54 will hold a primary election on May 18. This election is being held to fill the seat of Sydney Kamlager, who now represents State Senate District 30. District 30 was vacated by Holly Mitchell when she won election to the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors. Again, if no single candidate receives a majority of votes on May 18, a general election will take place on July 20.

Ballot Measures

Since 2011 all statewide initiative measures appear only on general election ballots. As such, the race to gather enough signatures to qualify measures ahead of the 2022 general election is on. As of this writing, there are only two measures we know for certain will be on next year’s ballot, barring a late-stage withdrawal. The first is a measure that would make changes to the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, which establishes limits on medical malpractice claims. This measure actually qualified for the 2020 ballot and was postponed.

The second measure challenges a 2020 law passed by the legislature banning the sale of flavored tobacco products, including those used in electronic cigarettes. The ballot measure qualified in January of this year, effectively putting the ban on hold until voters have their say on the issue next year. The measure’s lead supporter, California Coalition for Fairness, is funded largely by both the traditional and vaping tobacco industries and has already bought its share of ad time attacking lawmakers for passing the ban in the first place. It’s a battle that is sure to be contentious. There is still plenty of time for more measures to circulate and qualify, and you can bet there will be many more groups pushing for their issue to make the ballot.

As we mentioned before, the year after a Census is usually reserved for the important work of redistricting. Now counties, and the state as a whole, are scrambling to manage this triple threat of elections all while juggling redistricting and likely changes to 2022 elections timelines to account for major delays from the Census Bureau. Needless to say, it’s the perfect time to be kind to the elections officials in your life.

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