September 2021 Recall (VOTE NO!)

These are my thoughts on the September 2021 California Governor recall election.

tl;dr: VOTE NO ON QUESTION 1. Make sure everyone you know VOTES NO ON QUESTION 1. Make sure you got your mail-in ballot, and return it to a dropbox if easy or to USPS if not, as soon as possible. Don’t dilly-dally on voting just because question 2 is confusing.


This election is not about Gavin Newsom.

This election is about the Republican Party of California and about a loophole in the recall process.

The Republican Party of California knows they are not popular here. In 2018, Newsom was elected 61.9% to 38.1%. They know that no ordinary electoral process will let them win a statewide election without becoming significantly more liberal.

Luckily for them, there’s an electoral process that’s far from ordinary: the recall process.

Recall isn’t inherently a terrible idea. If a particular elected official does something so far outside the realm of reasonable behavior such that they really should resign but they refuse to do so, it’s understandable to have a mechanism to end a term early via a vote.

What’s terrible is how California’s current election laws select a replacement for a recalled Governor.

We already have an elected official who doesn’t do much other than be first in the line of succession to the governorship: Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis. If Newsom died, she would become Governor. In the case of a legitimate recall where a Governor did something horrible (not just “people don’t like the platform of the Governor’s party”), the Lieutenant Governor would be the obvious replacement.

But that’s not how California’s system works. Instead, there’s an “election” for a replacement on the same ballot. No primaries. No runoff. Just whoever gets the most votes, in an election where it’s structurally a lot harder for somebody of the current Governor’s party to put forth a simple message without hurting the “no recall” campaign.

Politicians tend to not be loved. It’s a lot easier to get people to vote against a politician than to win a head-to-head election. So structurally speaking, an election of the form “do you not like this one guy? and which of his enemies do you like the best?” is a lot easier to win than one of the form “do you prefer this guy or this challenger?”.

The Republican Party of California knows this. That’s why every Governor for decades has had an attempted recall.

If a recall ended with the Lieutenant Governor becoming Governor, or with a follow-up special election where candidates of the Governor’s party could campaign whole-heartedly, or even with a runoff, the Republican Party would put a lot less effort into recalling California’s governors.

But because of this loophole, where they can force an election on uneven ground, we have an election. And unfortunately, polls look close.

I am not a huge fan of Gavin Newsom. I have never voted for him in a primary election and doubt I ever will. But he is far more qualified to be governor than any of the potential replacements, and certainly far more so than any of the Republicans who will most likely win if question 1 goes “yes”. (Don’t believe the one poll that shows a Democrat in the lead. That’s what you get when you list six Republicans and one Democrat and tell the person you’re polling which party they each have — of course the sole Democrat will end up in the lead. Compare this poll with a similar list of candidates but no explicit party identification, where Paffrath only got 1%. And in any case, Paffrath’s platform is awful.)

All that is to say: VOTE NO ON QUESTION 1. No means no recall. No means no Republican Governor of California.

All registered voters should have received a mail-in ballot, whether you are generally registered as permanent mail-in or not! Ballots in Alameda County and San Francisco arrived around August 17th. If yours hasn’t yet, check with your county elections department to find out why!

You have until September 14th to submit your ballot; I recommend voting as soon as you can! There are many drop boxes where you can leave your ballot without worrying about postal delays; here’s lists of drop boxes for Alameda County and San Francisco. There are also a limited number of voting locations available in the few days leading up to September 14th, but unless you aren’t able to get your hands on your mail-in ballot, I recommend ignoring that and voting with your mail-in ballot as soon as possible!

Figuring out the best answer for Question 2 is less important than making sure you vote on Question 1. If “yes” passes for Question 1, we’re all in trouble no matter what. Yes, it’s worth being thoughtful about what to put for Question 2, but if you’re still scratching your head about this on September 7th, just choose something and get yourself to the drop box.

I’m not really sure what I’m going to put for Question 2. This question determines who becomes governor if half of voters vote yes on Question 1. Everyone can vote on Question 2, no matter what you put for Question 1 — and your Question 1 vote still counts even if you leave Question 2 blank. There’s lots of bad options.

I’m not sure what I’ll do, other than make sure not to let the challenge of Question 2 get in the way of getting my Question 1 vote in.