Article 2, Section 1 of the California Constitution specifies:
All political power is inherent in the people.
Government is instituted for their protection, security, and benefit,
and they have the right to alter or reform it when the public good
Section 13 specifies:
Recall is the power of the electors to remove an elective
Section 14 elaborates:
Recall of a state officer is initiated by delivering
to the Secretary of State a petition alleging reason for recall.
Sufficiency of reason is not reviewable.
These provisions were adopted in 1911 as part of a large-scale reform package introduced by newly elected governor Hiram Johnson, who had captured the Republican party nomination as part of a Progressive insurgency, and whose statewide campaign had been based entirely on reforming the corrupt legal system and breaking the political power of the Southern Pacific Railroad. The idea was that when elected officials were not responsive to the people, or were abusing their office, the people had the power to remove them (and, likewise, the initiative was supposed to guarantee that the people had the right to introduce laws). Similar provisions were adopted in roughly a dozen states across the United States.
While the recall of a statewide official has never before appeared on a ballot in California (the Governor of North Dakota was successfully recalled in 1921), the recall has been successfully used to remove legislators, particularly as part of a conservative voter revolt against Republicans who defected from the party line over who should be Speaker of the Assembly after the 1994 election1. Unlike the initiative, which is used regularly in California, the recall is rarely used; petitions have been circulated against every California governor since the 1930s, but none has qualified for the ballot before now.
Article 2, Section 14 of the California constitution specifies that a petition to recall a statewide officer must be signed by a number of people at least equal to 12% of the number of people who voted in the last vote for that office, with signatures from each of 5 counties equal to at least 1% of the last vote for the office in that county, and must be submitted within 160 days of the date that the petition begins circulating. The California Elections Code specifies that vote tallies shall be reported by County Elections officers monthly until the recall has qualified or the deadline has passed.
Supporters of recalling the governor began circulating a petition on March 25, 2003. Because the total number of votes cast for Governor in November, 2002, was 7,738,781, recall proponents had to collect at least 897,158 signatures by September 2, 2003.
In order to count, signatures must be validated. Validation consists of checking the signature on the petition against signatures on the voter registration card. Since checking on the order of a million signatures is too time consuming to be done in a reasonable time frame, county elections officials conduct random sampling to determine what percentage of the signatures is valid. They then multiply that percentage by the number of signatures submitted; if that number is more than 110% of the required minimum (on any particular reporting day), then the recall qualifies and an election must be called. If that number is less than 95% (on the last reporting day) of the required number, the recall fails to qualify. If that number is within 95% and 110% of the required number (on the last reporting day), then county elections officials have 30 days to conduct a full check.
On July 23, 2003, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley reported that 1,651,191 signatures had been submitted to county elections officials (21.34% of the votes cast for Governor in 2002), of which 1,356,408 were valid according to random sampling (17.5% of the votes cast for Governor in 2002). Since that was 151% of the number required, the Lt. Governor2 proceeded to call an election the following day. Outside of the San Francisco Bay Area, support for the recall was widespread, with some counties reporting signature totals of more than 35% of the votes cast in 2002.
::What will be on the ballot::
California law requires that the election be scheduled for a Tuesday between 60 and 80 days after the Secretary of State certifies that it has qualified, and that the preceding Monday not be a holiday. Lieutenant Governor Bustamante called the election to be held on October 7. The recall itself will be a two-part election.
The first part of the election will be a simple question: Should Governor Davis be recalled or not? The recall will succeed if a simple majority of votes cast on this issue say 'yes'.
The second part of the election will be a plurality contest to determine who should replace Davis as governor.3. To qualify for this, a candidate must obtain 65 signatures from people registered with his political party and pay a $3,500 filing fee or submit a number of signatures from members of his party to qualify for a filing fee waiver (10,000 for Democrats and Republicans, a smaller number for minor parties). Non-partisan candidates must follow a similar procedure, obtaining signatures from people not registered with a political party. Nominating papers must be filed, and fees paid, by August 9, 2003.
The contingent election has no primary and no runoff. The candidate with the most votes will become governor if Davis is recalled (note, though, that the counties have 28 days to certify the election results, during which time Davis will still be governor). People who vote no on the recall can vote in the contingent election, however, votes cast in the contingent election by people who do not vote on the recall will not be counted. Gov. Davis, as the target of the recall, is prohibited from running on the contingent ballot.
In addition, two ballot measures which have qualified for the next statewide election, and had previously been expected to appear on the March, 2004, primary ballot, will instead be consolidated with the recall. One of these is a voter-circulated initiative that would prohibit state and local governments from collecting data on race, ethnicity, or nationality of students, contractors, or employers; One is a constitutional amendment placed on the ballot by the legislature to require that at least a set percentage of the state's budget be spent on infrastructure.
::Who Will Run?::
The Democratic Party has said that it will not run any candidates, and all of the prominent Democrats in the state maintain that they have no intention of running. There has been talk of trying to draft either Senator Dianne Feinstein, the state's most popular politician, or former Congressman Leon Panetta, as caretaker candidates (so that (a) there is a Democrat on the ballot who anti-recall voters can vote for, and (b) one candidate filing doesn't cause a number of candidates to break rank and file, resulting in half a dozen Democrats on the ballot and a split vote); both have demurred.
At the moment there are two declared Republican candidates: Congressman Darrell Issa, who spent much of his personal money financing4 the recall campaign; and State Senator Tom McClintock, a locally well known fiscal conservative who has tried twice to be elected Controller. Everyone assumes that last year's Republican candidate for Governor, Bill Simon, will run, as well. Speculation flies around Arnold Schwarzenegger, the famous actor who is believed to harbor political ambition, and Richard Riordan, the former mayor of Los Angeles who lost to Bill Simon in a bruising primary5, but neither have declared intention to run.
Peter Camejo, the Green party candidate in the 2002 election, has said he will run, and the Libertarians are expected to run someone, as well. Because this is a plurality election, if enough Republicans run and split their vote, it is concievable (although unlikely) that a third-party candidate could win - especially Camejo, as he is likely to pick up a large number of anti-recall votes if the Democrats do not run anyone.
There has been much speculation that the low number of signatures needed to qualify could cause a rush of candidates. This isn't currently expected to happen, but it could; almost anyone could amass the 65 signatures needed.
One of the peculiar things about this election is the compressed time frame. Candidacies do not have to be filed until August 9, but federal election law requires that absentee ballots be mailed to people living overseas (including soldiers in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere) no later than 60 days before the election (eg., August 8).
Aside from that specific case (where there is no action that satisfies both state and federal law), there are other logistical problems:
- Some counties are in the process of adopting new voting equipment (touch-screen, mandated by a voting modernization ballot intiative) which will not be ready by the time of the election, and so will have to bring their old equipment out of mothballs;
- Printing ballots usually takes 60-70 days before an election (and there are only 4 printers certified to print ballots in California);
- Some jurisdictions have elections in November (notably San Francisco, which has elections for Mayor and the County Board of Supervisors, a new and inexperienced chief elections official, and a reputation for problems during elections) and must coordinate both elections.
- Polling places and poll workers must be obtained (a process that usually takes several months);
- The election is expected to cost the counties on the order of $30 million in a year in which every county in the state has already had budget cuts. That money is off-budget and will have to be accounted for somehow.
In addition, there has been, and will continue to be, a flurry of legal activity. Two cases have already been decided by the courts (although they may be appealed):
- Supporters of the recall sued Secretary of State Kevin Shelley over his interpretation of the rules for verifying signatures. He had ruled that the counties had to report signatures submitted monthly, but that the verification count could lag the submitted count by a month. (For practical reasons involving not wanting work to pile up, few counties were actually doing this). Last week, a court issued an order demanding that he revise his instructions or explain why; he revised his instructions.
- Opponents of the recall, noting that the Elections Code requires that recall petition circulators be registered in the jurisdiction covered by the office to which the recall applies (which would prevent someone from Los Angeles from circulating petitions to recall the mayor of Palo Alto), and that some of the circulators were from out of state, sued to obtain a restraining order preventing the vote totals from being submitted until all signatures obtained by out-of-state petitioners were invalidated; a court declined to issue the restraining order. (The provision is arguably unconstitutional under the equal protection clause, and the use of the provision is contrary to the position taken by every Secretary of State since the early 1970s with respect to initiative petitions: the signatures count, but the circulator can be fined).
::Will the recall succeed?::
Polling data shows that Davis is extremely unpopular. And, with roughly 20% of the people who voted in 2002 signing a recall, there is a strong base of support for it. But Davis is reputed to be a master6 at negative campaigning and can be expected to turn the election into a referendum on how evil the other candidates are; and it is unclear what percentage of those who signed the petition voted against Davis in 2002 (if it's anywhere close to 100%, then the recall is likely to fail). Nobody is able to predict the result at this time. Anything could happen. Davis could win. Davis could be recalled and Camejo could win. A mass movement could arise around a populist anti-tax-crusader and restore Republican party hegemony in the state. Nobody knows - and, as a result, the politically interested in the state are (a) nervous, and (b) fascinated.
1The exact details of that sordid battle go beyond the scope of this article, but a brief summary may be in order. In 1994, the second election since California had adopted a term limits law, the Republican party eked out a one-seat majority in the state Legislature. Incumbent Speaker Willie Brown was re-elected Speaker of the Assembly, and (largely by relying on predictions of chaos) managed to convince one Republican to vote for him as speaker. Outraged Republicans initiated a successful recall against the legislator, whereupon Brown convinced another Republican to stand for Speaker (against the wishes of the Republican caucus, who had selected a different candidate) and got the Democrats to vote for that candidate. Outraged Republicans recalled him. Eventually the Republicans gained control of the Assembly, but they lost it in the subsequent regularly scheduled election.
2Ordinarily the election would be called by the Governor, but since the Governor is the subject of the recall, the Constitution specifies that the election shall be called by the Liuetenant Governor.
3There was a brief flurry of controversy this week when Lt. Governor Bustamante attempted to claim that there was a loophole in the constitutional provision regarding this which allowed him to not hold such a contingent election, and instead to simply inherit the Governorship if Davis was recalled. His reasoning was that Article 2, Section 15 of the California Constitution specifies An election to determine whether to recall an officer
and, if appropriate, to elect a successor shall be called by the
Governor, and that it was not appropriate in this case as there are other constitutional provisions dealing with vacancies in the Governorship. Secretary of State Kevin Shelley disagreed, and after a flurry of activity and criticism, Lt. Governor Bustamante dropped the proposal.
4Most petition signatures are gathered by paid circulators, and without a source of funding, it is extremely difficult for either an intiative or a recall to gather sufficient signatures statewide. One of the more entertaining developments prior to the recall qualifying was when pro-Davis forces began circulating a legally meaningless anti-recall petition for the express purpose of increasing the cost of circulating petitions.
5In which supporters of Gov. Davis took out ads attacking Riordan for not being sufficiently conservative.
6During the weeks before the petition qualified, Davis supporters took out television and radio ads attempting to link the recall with Darrell Issa, one of the primary financial backers, and attacking Issa as a car thief who was now trying to steal an election.