CSAC Bulletin Article

Representatives Review Recall Reform Recommendations

November 4, 2021

Nearly two months after California voters rejected an attempt to recall Governor Gavin Newsom that cost counties and the state about $276 million to conduct, state officials continue to examine California’s recall system for potential reform. Discussions for potential reforms include raising the signature threshold to qualify a recall election, altering the election process for successor candidates, and creating a malfeasance standard for justifying a recall election.

The Little Hoover Commission, California’s independent citizens’ oversight agency, kicked off a series of hearings in mid-October focused on the history of California’s recall system, public opinion about the system, and potential changes that can be made to improve the system. The third hearing will take place on Monday, November 8, and the public can view and participate via zoom.

The Assembly Elections Committee and the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee held a joint informational hearing last Thursday. The hearing compared recall procedures in other states, debated the qualifying factors for a recall election, and heard from various academics on potential alternatives to the existing recall process. The committees intend to hold an additional hearing in the coming months and indicated an interest in adding local reform recall to the agenda.

While state recall efforts are the heart of the debate, recall attempts of local elected officials are far more common. While substantially reforming the recall process for state elected officials would require a vote by the people, the California Constitution simply requires the Legislature to provide for recall of local officers. Therefore, the Elections Code predominately dictates timelines and requirements for local recall elections and would be easier to alter through a regular legislative bill. 

As the debate around altering California’s recall election system continues, election officers, academics, and elected leaders emphasize the need for bipartisan buy-in in order to avoid erosion of public trust and unintended consequences. As the new legislative year inches closer, CSAC staff will continue to monitor discussions around recall reform and advocate for full reimbursement to Counties, which are often strapped with the costs of administering these special elections.

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