County results Elder: 20–30% 30–40% 40–50% 50–60% 60–70% Paffrath: 20–30%
The 2021 California gubernatorial recall election was a special recallelection that concluded on September 14, 2021, in which California voters chose not to recall incumbent DemocraticgovernorGavin Newsom, elected for the term January 2019 to January 2023. The recall petition was filed in February 2020 and signatures were collected from June 2020 to March 2021. Had the recall been successful, the replacement candidate with the most votes on the second part of the ballot would have assumed the office. The election followed the same pandemic-era format used in the November 2020 general election: in August, county election offices sent an official ballot to the mailing address of every registered voter, giving them the option to vote by mail on or before election day, or, when polling places opened statewide, to vote in-person.
Due to the wide margin of the results, most major news outlets projected the race for Newsom within an hour of polls closing. Larry Elder, the frontrunner replacement candidate, conceded defeat. Official certification of the results will occur by October 22. As of election day, California Secretary of StateShirley Weber estimated the cost of the election to exceed $300 million.
Following their ascension into power in 1911, California's progressive Republican reformers introduced direct democracy with the recall (Proposition 8) and the initiative and referendum (Proposition 7) processes, alongside other sweeping democratic reforms like women's suffrage (Proposition 4), to weaken the influence of private interests and restore, according to newly elected Governor Hiram Johnson, "the people's rule". As of 2021, California is one of 19 states to allow recall elections. Under state law, any elected official may be subjected to a recall. To trigger a recall election of a statewide elected official, proponents must gather a certain number of signatures from registered voters within a certain time period. The number must equal at least 12 percent of the votes cast in the previous election for that office. Based on the previous gubernatorial election, the 2021 recall petition required 1,495,709 signatures.
When the secretary of state confirms that a recall petition meets the required number of signatures, a recall election must be scheduled within 60 to 80 days. If the petition qualifies less than 180 days prior to the next regularly scheduled election, then the recall becomes part of that regularly scheduled election. In the case of a recall against the governor, the responsibility for scheduling the recall election falls on the lieutenant governor, which for 2021 is Eleni Kounalakis.
Prior to this election, the only other gubernatorial recall attempt in California to qualify for the ballot happened in 2003, which resulted in Gray Davis being replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger. This election is the result of one of 179 attempts to recall a state-level elected official in California since voters gained the right to recall in 1911, one of 55 attempts to recall a governor, and one of six such efforts to remove Newsom. Every California governor since 1960 has experienced some form of a recall attempt. Of the ten prior recall attempts on state-level elected officials in California which led to special recall elections, six ultimately resulted in their removal from office by voters. This recall election is the fourth gubernatorial recall election ever held in the United States; the other three being North Dakota in 1921, California in 2003, and Wisconsin in 2012.
Newsom recall petition
Newsom in 2019
During Newsom's tenure as governor, a total of seven recall petitions have been launched against him. On February 20, 2020, the petition which led to the 2021 recall election was served against Newsom. It stated, "People in this state suffer the highest taxes in the nation, the highest homelessness rates, and the lowest quality of life as a result." The timing of the recall attempt coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The basis for previous recall attempts included the state's "Universal Healthcare and laws regarding illegal aliens" and "homelessness".
On June 10, 2020, then-Secretary of StateAlex Padilla approved petitioners' petitions for circulation. The recall petition focused on a variety of grievances, on issues such as sanctuary policies, homelessness, taxes, and water rationing. Newsom's official response to the petition touted his support for funding education, health care, and infrastructure, noted the State's fiscal health, and warned that the recall campaign was a partisan attack that would result in a costly election.
The recall campaign hired a political consulting firm in late June 2020, and the initial plan was to pay circulators to collect signatures. To ensure a successful validation, the recall campaign sought to gather 2 million signatures. Given the difficulties in obtaining signatures during the pandemic, however, the per-signature cost rose dramatically, and petitioners opted to proceed with a team of approximately 5,000 volunteer circulators instead. The first proponent of the recall, Orrin Heatlie, played a grassroots role in the previous attempt led by aspiring Tea Party politician Erin Cruz.
The petition was initially given a signature deadline of November 17, 2020, but was extended to March 17, 2021, by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge James P. Arguelles due to the pandemic. Arguelles ruled that recall proponents would have a longer time window to collect signatures than they normally would have under non-pandemic circumstances.
Party at The French Laundry
The French Laundry
Newsom was widely criticized in November 2020 for his attendance at a birthday party with more than three households at The French Laundry restaurant in Yountville in the Napa Valley despite guidelines issued by his administration ahead of an expected holiday COVID-19 surge which limited private gatherings to at most three households. Also in attendance were multiple lobbyists, including both the head lobbyist and the CEO of the California Medical Association. Newsom and his office initially defended the outing while saying it was the first time he and his wife dined with others in public since the COVID-19 pandemic began, that public dining recommendations were separate from state guidelines for private gatherings, and that the party was held outdoors.
The day after Newsom claimed the party had been held outdoors, photographs showing an enclosed and maskless gathering were published and widely shared. Neighboring diners said Newsom's party was so loud, restaurant staff closed off their garage-like dining space with sliding glass doors, essentially making an indoor dining space. Napa County was in the "orange tier" of pandemic severity at the time, which permitted some indoor dining. Newsom later apologized for attending the celebration. The incident severely damaged Newsom's image and credibility amid the public health crisis.
This incident and voter anger over lockdowns, job losses, and school and business closures were widely credited for the recall petition's surge in support. Other reasons included a $31 billion fraud scandal at the state unemployment agency and pre-pandemic grievences over homelessness and high taxes. By August, the petitioners had submitted 55,000 signatures, and from August through October, a total of 890 new signatures were submitted. Coincidentally, both the French Laundry party and the extension of the signature collection deadline happened on November 6 and between November 5 and December 7, over 442,000 new signatures were submitted and verified; 1,664,010 signatures, representing 97.75% of the signature total, would be submitted and verified from November 2020 to the March 2021 deadline.
Though the state's Republican Party establishment was not involved with the launch of the recall petition, the growing recall effort eventually received the attention and support of statewide and nationwide Republicans, with the Republican Governors Association commissioning a poll involving prospective candidates in February 2021. In January 2021, Newsom refused to acknowledge the developing recall movement when questioned by reporters. In January 2021, Rusty Hicks, the chairman of the California Democratic Party, likened it to the storming of the U.S. Capitol, calling it the "California coup". The comparison drew bipartisan criticism, with Newsom's former deputy chief of staff, Yashar Ali, saying it was "absolutely insane to frame a recall where the voters go to the polls a coup". In February 2021, White House Press SecretaryJen Psaki indicated and later confirmed that the Biden administration opposed the recall and was in contact with Newsom's office in regards to it.
The recall campaign submitted 2,117,730 signatures by the March 2021 deadline. On April 26, 2021, the office of Secretary of State Shirley Weber announced that the recall effort had gained enough signatures to pass the 1,495,709 threshold and qualify for the ballot, pending official certification after a period of 30 days where voters could retract their signatures[note 1] and where state officials tallied the costs to conduct the election (up to 60 days). The count yielded 1,719,943 valid signatures, which was roughly 13.8 percent of votes cast in 2018, exceeding the 12 percent threshold required to trigger the recall election. On June 23, 2021, the secretary of state announced that only 43 recall signatories withdrew their signatures statewide prior to the withdrawal deadline, resulting in a final count of 1,719,900 signatures (224,191 more than the required total), and all but ensuring a special election to recall Newsom from the governor's office.
After official certification, Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis was legally required to call the election within 60 to 80 days. The official certification occurred on July 1, and on the same day, Kounalakis called the election for September 14, 2021.
An image of a ballot from Los Angeles County. The listed order of the replacement candidates was determined by a randomization of the alphabet. The starting point, however, gets shifted for each of the state's 80 Assembly Districts (hence, all 46 candidates appear at the top of the ballot in at least one assembly district, with 34 candidates being listed first in two assembly districts).
As of 2021, a recall ballot in California consists of two parts: whether the incumbent should be recalled, and a selection of replacement candidates in the event they are recalled. If a simple majority of those who cast ballots favors removing the incumbent by selecting "YES" on the first question, then the replacement candidate who receives the most votes (a type of plurality voting) finishes out the incumbent's term in office. A voter is allowed a single unranked vote when choosing a preferred replacement candidate, irrespective of their response to the first question. If the recall had been successful, the new governor would have taken office 38 days after the election and served the remainder of the term through January 2, 2023. The recall election results will be officially certified by October 22 of this year.
Following legislation, all registered voters will be mailed a ballot for any elections held in 2021, which included the gubernatorial recall election.
Changes to state recall election laws
Though California's recall process has remained fundamentally unchanged since its introduction in 1911, beginning in 2017 and up to the 2021 gubernatorial recall, California's Democratic-led government enacted legislation to change how recall elections are conducted. Several lawmakers and academics also made proposals to make more substantial changes the recall process during the 2021 recall campaign that would later fail in the legislature and the courts; similar rule changes were proposed during California's 2003 recall election campaign. In addition, a new election law was applied to the 2021 recall election, though its application would later be ruled invalid in court.
Recall election timeline (SB 117 and SB 152)
In 2017, ahead of the successful recall of State Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), Democratic legislators changed the law concerning recall elections with Senate Bill 117 to give voters 30 business days to withdraw their names from the recall petition. The 2017 law change also added a 30 day period for the state Department of Finance to conduct a cost estimate and gave the Joint Legislative Budget Committee 30 days to review the estimate.
On June 28, 2021, Newsom signed Senate Bill 152 into law, which allowed for his recall election to be held as early as August 2021, by allowing for a shorter recall timeline, which had been lengthened prior to the recall of Senator Newman. The changes allowed the Lieutenant Governor to set a date for the recall without waiting for the Joint Legislative Budget Committee to review the cost estimate "so long as the Legislature has appropriated the funds it determines 'reasonably necessary' to conduct the recall election". With the same law change, the legislature appropriated $250 million to administer the recall election.
While Newsom's pre-pandemic response to the recall effort in early 2020 warned that a special recall election would cost $81 million, county officials estimated in June 2021 that a recall election, expected to be held in the Fall, would cost taxpayers $215 million. This higher estimate had presumed a lengthy recall calendar featuring the rule changes enacted in 2017 ahead of Senator Newman's recall as well as higher paper costs due to state requirements for universal mail-in ballots enacted in 2020 and extended for 2021 elections.
With the timeline shortened by SB 152, California's county election clerks urged Lieutenant Governor Kounalakis to schedule the election as late as possible (at least after mid-September), citing an inability to guarantee a successful August election, possible voter confusion, and the potential for costs far beyond the original estimate. An earlier election could help Newsom defeat the recall by avoiding political fallout over fires, virus variants, or school reopenings, which could coincide with a November election. On July 1, the Department of Finance released an estimate of the cost of the September 14, 2021, election at $276 million, an increase of $61 million from the original estimate.
Newsom's campaign and Democratic legislative leaders of both state houses had criticized the recall election as a waste of taxpayer money, while recall proponents said, "You can't put a price on democracy," and that some costs could have been avoided if officials allowed for a "traditional" election without universal mail-in ballots. While the projected $276 million cost of the recall was close to the $292 million spent on the 2020 general election in California, which was the first to feature universal mail-in ballots, the cost per voter was significantly higher than in the 2018 midterm elections.
Secretary of State Weber later said in an interview with KABC-TV that the recall's cost by election day had surpassed $276 million and was on track to exceed $300 million.
Incumbent's party preference (SB 151)
In 2019, Newsom signed Senate Bill 151 into law, which gave recall targets the right to state their party preference on the recall ballot. Newsom was unable to take advantage of the new law after his campaign missed a February 2020 deadline (when the recall petition was filed) to state his party preference. In June and July 2021, Newsom's campaign sued Secretary of State Shirley Weber (whom he appointed earlier in 2021) over the issue, but lost the case. Weber sided with him, telling the judge that voters would benefit from knowing Newsom's political party preference. The lawyers arguing the case in opposition to Newsom before Judge James P. Arguelles (who had also approved the recall signature deadline extension) represented replacement candidate Caitlyn Jenner and proponents of the recall.
Misapplication of tax return disclosure law (SB 27)
A new requirement for gubernatorial candidates to disclose their most recent tax returns was passed into law in 2019, when Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill 27.[note 2] Although the language of the law says that gubernatorial candidates must publicize the prior five years of their tax returns in order for their names to appear on a "primary ballot", the secretary of state applied the law to the recall election. The law has been cited as a potential reason for the major reduction in recall replacement candidates relative to the number of candidates in the 2003 gubernatorial recall.
The tax return disclosure requirement did not apply to Newsom, who was not considered a "candidate" in the recall. Newsom's campaign nonetheless submitted his tax documents to Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who refused to publish them on the grounds that the Governor was not required to disclose them. Newsom's campaign did not respond to a reporter's July 19, 2021, request for his recent tax returns.
On July 21, 2021, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Laurie Earl invalidated all tax return disclosure requirements for the 2021 recall election. The ruling was on a suit filed by prospective recall challenger Larry Elder against Secretary of State Weber, alleging she overstepped her authority by disqualifying him from his candidacy due to a purported tax return filing error. The judge ruled that Weber had improperly disqualified Elder, who had "substantially complied" with the requirements and that the special recall election was not a primary election and therefore Senate Bill 27 did not even apply. By then, 42 candidates' tax returns had already been made public by the secretary of state's office. Weber's office said it would comply with the ruling and did not appeal.
Proposed changes to state recall election law
In April 2021, two bills that could make future recalls less likely were introduced in the California Senate: the first, a bill originally authored by Senator Ben Allen (D-Redondo Beach) two years prior, in response to the recall of Senator Josh Newman, would allow a targeted incumbent to be a candidate on the recall ballot; the second, authored by Senator Josh Newman (who by 2020 had reclaimed his lost state senate seat) would have allowed targets of recall campaigns to access the lists of recall petition signers and try to persuade them to remove their signatures. Neither bill would have impacted the 2021 recall election.
Newman's proposed law (Senate Bill 663) cleared the State Senate's Elections Committee on April 12, but he pulled the bill before it headed to the Judiciary Committee after it received fierce opposition from proponents of the 2021 recall over privacy and voter intimidation concerns. As of July 2021, Senator Allen's bill (Senate Constitutional Amendment 3) was on hold in the legislative "suspense file".
In September 2021, while voting in the recall election was underway, Democratic State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said discussions were being held to alter California's recall process; support and opposition to changes in the recall process in California have fallen along partisan lines. Any major changes to the recall process must be approved by California's voters via an amendment to the Constitution of California.
Although the recall petition was introduced in February 2020, before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Newsom's response faced scrutiny by recall supporters and the news media. Many in favor of recalling Newsom cited issues unrelated to the pandemic as reasons for their support.
Newsom under recall
Newsom presided over an unexpected surplus in the state's 2021 finances, attributable to the recovery in the stock market, the state's progressive tax code, and $26 billion in federal aid, and announced a $100 billion post-pandemic spending proposal in May 2021 which would expand the eligibility for stimulus checks issued by the state to higher-wage earners with an additional payment to those with children, provide rental and utility assistance, and give funds to small businesses. While Newsom was required to return some of the surplus to taxpayers due to the Gann limit, which requires surplus funds to "be returned by a revision of tax rates or fee schedules", the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association said the law was likely being misapplied with the issuance of rebate checks to targeted constituencies rather than with the reduction of tax rates for all taxpayers. A report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, published shortly after the proposal was revealed, said that when considering spending that must go towards public schools, pay off debt, or be placed in the state's main reserve account, the surplus was actually $38 billion, not $75 billion as claimed by Newsom, that the proposal was being rushed since more time was needed to determine which solutions would be effective, and that the proposal was "shortsighted and inadvisable" since it requested $12 billion from the state's existing reserves in spite of the surplus. Newsom's Democratic predecessor Jerry Brown said the spending plans were "not sustainable" and said, "I would predict, certainly within two years, we're going to see fiscal stress." Proponents of Newsom's proposal said the high amount of spending was "historic" and would help the economy recover from the pandemic, while opponents said Newsom's proposal was crafted in response to the imminent recall election. According to state officials, a stimulus payment would be issued to eligible individuals starting in September 2021. The first round of 600,000 stimulus checks was directly deposited into bank accounts on August 27, 2021, with payments to other recipients scheduled to be disbursed every two weeks.
In May 2021, Kaiser Health News reported that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Newsom was "routinely outsourcing life-or-death public health duties to his allies in the private sector" with lucrative no-bid government contracts. The report said the "vast majority" of awardees were Newsom supporters and donors who had collectively donated $113 million to his political campaigns (including to his campaign to fight the recall), charitable causes, or policy initiatives, since his entry into state-level politics in 2010.
In June 2021, The Sacramento Bee reported that the non-profit organization founded by Newsom's wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, had received over $800,000 in donations from companies that lobbied or did business with California state government, and paid her over $2.3 million since 2011 for leading the organization and producing documentary films through her production company, Girl's Club Entertainment. When questioned about his wife's non-profit, Newsom denied that there was any conflict of interest with the arrangement. In response to the report, several recall challengers called for a ban on donations to non-profit organizations of elected officials' family members from companies engaged in business with the state.
The recall effort was not launched by state Republican Party apparatus, but by activists who had unsuccessfully attempted to recall Newsom before; the activists said the party establishment did not get involved in a substantial way until the recall effort had almost triggered the election. Newsom's campaign against the recall branded it as a "Republican recall".
Newsom did not acknowledge the recall election until its occurrence became all but certain, calling the effort "partisan, Republican". He recruited nationwide Democrats to help fundraise against it. State Democratic leaders warned members of their party against running in the recall election to avoid a potential split electorate, which some attribute to the 2003 recall of Governor Gray Davis, where Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante was defeated in his candidacy by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. A May 2021 UC Berkeley Institute of Government Studies poll sponsored by the Los Angeles Times found that Democratic voters overwhelmingly preferred having a prominent Democratic replacement candidate on the ballot in case the recall was successful, at odds with attempts by party leadership to prevent such a scenario.
Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger disputed the supposed partisan motives of the recall, comparing the 2021 effort to the successful 2003 recall and saying,
"It's pretty much the same atmosphere today as it was then. There was dissatisfaction, to the highest level. And it's the same with the momentum. Something that sets it off to a higher level, kind of the straw that breaks the camel's back ... like an explosion."
Democratic strategist Katie Merrill said that the chance for a successful recall in 2021 was low:
"Politically, we're a completely different state than we were in 2003. If you look at the statewide races, the Republican Party has effectively become a third party in California."
Newsom and his allies sought to connect the recall effort to anti-vaccine and anti-mask extremists, as well as supporters of former president Donald Trump, while recall proponents said that the recall was only about Newsom and his performance as governor, and claimed that around one-third of recall petition signatories were registered Democrats or Independents. As of April 30, 2021, nearly a year after the recall campaign was approved for petition circulation by the secretary of state, Trump had yet to personally comment on the recall effort. In September 2021, Trump commented on the recall election, claiming without evidence that it was "rigged".
Despite the CDC's mid-May guidance that it was not necessary for persons fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to wear masks in most indoor settings, Newsom's administration decided that California would continue its indoor mask mandate for another month, until June 15, 2021. Reception to the CDC's new guidance among public health experts had been mixed, with some favoring quick implementation and others favoring a delay, including Bob Wachter, chair of the UCSF Department of Medicine, who called the CDC's new guidance "premature". The delayed implementation was criticized by UCSF scientist and COVID-19 expert Dr. Monica Gandhi who said it had no scientific rationale, while potentially causing harm by suggesting there is "still a danger when there isn't one". Isaac Hale, a lecturer of political science at UC Davis, said partisan politics concerning the recall may have been a factor in the decision:
"One of [the] top political priorities Newsom has is keeping the Democratic base together, which is why they're really focused on arguing the recall is a partisan Republican endeavor. The biggest thing that could damage that narrative is if a prominent Democrat or progressive emerged as a candidate in the recall, like Cruz Bustamante did in 2003. The key to Newsom staying in power is keeping the Democratic base happy, consolidated and making sure the California Democratic Party is the party of Gavin Newsom, and Gavin Newsom only. It's smart politics since mask mandates are popular among California Democrats."
Jack Citrin, a political science professor at UC Berkeley, said changing the electoral calendar threatened to reinforce the public's cynicism about politicians using any means available to stay in power, and that they were "trying to create a situation that is most favorable for the partisan outcome that they favor". The changes were heavily criticized by Newsom's Republican opponents.
In August, recall proponents filed suit challenging language proposed by Newsom for the voter information handbook, alleging it falsely or misleading characterized the recall as a "power grab" by "Republicans and Trump supporters". On August 5, 2021, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Laurie M. Earl ruled against the suit and allowed inclusion of the disputed language, saying, "There is nothing false or misleading about describing the recall effort's leaders as Trump supporters." Judge Earl wrote that while it may have been an exaggeration to describe the election as a "Republican recall", the rhetoric was "common to political debate" and "permissible".
With political allies having successfully dissuaded prospective high-level Democrats from joining the race, Newsom's campaign urged supporters to skip the second question on the recall ballot. The directive was criticized by nonpartisan political observers, who said that it was misleading and could cause voter confusion.
Newsom's opponents said he was being dishonest when in a March 16, 2021, interview with Jake Tapper of CNN, he said, "I've been living through Zoom school and all of the challenge related to it," since his children had been receiving in-person instruction at their private school since October 2020, unlike schoolchildren in many densely-populated and urban public school districts in California. Newsom made the comments while conducting a public outreach effort to address the all-but-certain recall. The COVID-19 pandemic in California led to widespread school closures, the emergence of distance learning, and student mental health and academic challenges, and by the summer of 2021, education became a prominent issue in the recall campaign. Republican candidates said the public K-12 school system failed to adequately serve students after teachers unions' demands led to extended shutdowns, and proposed a statewide voucher system, whereby parents could use their share of per-pupil state funding on the public, charter, or private school of their choice.
Ahead of the September recall election, PresidentJoe Biden and Vice PresidentKamala Harris campaigned for Newsom. At a rally in Long Beach on the eve of the election, Biden said, "Folks, send a message to the nation: Courage matters, leadership matters, science matters. Vote to keep Gavin Newsom." Both Biden and Newsom likened Elder to Trump, with Newsom warning, "We may have defeated Donald Trump, but we have not defeated Trumpism. Trumpism is still on the ballot in California."
On July 24, 2021, the California Republican Party's steering committee voted to allow the party to endorse a candidate in the recall election, if the candidate received at least 60 percent of delegate votes in an upcoming August 7 meeting. Some Republicans opposed the move out of concern that endorsing a single candidate would reduce Republican voter turnout. On August 7, the party voted to cancel the endorsement vote and issue no endorsement; prior to the cancellation of the endorsement vote, Republican delegates were set to choose an endorsee from the four candidates who each had received the support of at least 200 delegates, which were Larry Elder, Kevin Faulconer, Kevin Kiley, and Doug Ose.
The Associated Press reported that television ads run by the Newsom campaign in September 2021 had distorted his Republican opponents' positions as "anti-vax" (no major Republican candidate had claimed COVID-19 vaccines were dangerous, a position commonly associated with vaccine hesitancy) and had called the outcome of the recall vote "a matter of life and death. The four major Republican candidates (Elder, Faulconer, Kiley, and Cox) each said that they were vaccinated against the virus, but all opposed vaccine mandates. Among the Republican candidates, Faulconer was the strongest advocate of COVID-19 vaccination; Cox had an "evolving position" but eventually recommended that everyone get vaccinated against COVID-19, and Elder and Kiley said that individuals should make up their own minds. Elder pledged, if elected, to repeal all face-covering and COVID-19 testing requirements for state workers.
A campaign supporting a challenger must adhere to the usual campaign finance limits for political candidates, while there is no dollar limit for a donor's contribution to the campaign of the defending incumbent (Newsom), nor for donations to groups advocating narrowly for the recall of the incumbent while not supporting any specific challenger. The maximum amount that a donor can give to a candidate (other than Newsom) is $32,400.
While organizers of the recall campaign said the effort was driven by grassroots supporters angry over pandemic restrictions and Newsom's attendance at the French Laundry dinner that defied his own guidelines, over half of the $4 million raised by recall proponents by March 2021 originated from two dozen Republican groups, along with wealthy companies and individuals, including Douglas Leone, David O. Sacks and Chamath Palihapitiya. Recall proponents said there was greater voter energy in favor of the recall and that despite having a small budget, an "unparalleled" volunteer base collected more than enough signatures for the "purposeful and organic" recall effort.
By May 26, 2021, $11.1 million and $4.6 million went to the pro-Newsom and pro-recall sides, respectively, with most funding for both sides originating from the same wealthy enclaves around the state. On August 4, 2021, the Los Angeles Times published updated campaign finance data for the upcoming recall election: Newsom's campaign was by far in the lead with $51 million raised, while $5.8 million had been raised by pro-recall committees unaffiliated with a candidate (most of the $5.8 million raised had already been spent during the signature-gathering phase). Among challengers who had raised over a million dollars, John Cox reported the most, with $7.6 million (largely self-funded), followed by Faulconer, who reported $3.4 million (raised over a six-month period), and Elder, who reported over $1 million (raised over a three-week period).
To have been listed on the ballot as a replacement candidate, a candidate must have been a United States citizen and registered to vote in California, submitted signatures from 65 registered voters and paid a $4,194.94 filing fee (which could be waived with the submission of 7,000 signatures of registered voters). Candidates who had been convicted of a felony involving bribery or embezzlement of public money were not allowed to run.
The deadline for filing was July 16, 2021. Forty-six candidates qualified to appear on the recall ballot, consisting of 24 Republicans, nine Democrats, two Greens, one Libertarian, and ten no party preference. Four of the 46 candidates qualified after a Sacramento County judge invalidated application of SB 27 on recall elections and ordered California's Secretary of State to add candidates who did not meet requirements for tax return disclosure. The list of candidates on the ballot was certified on July 21, 2021. Additionally, seven write-in candidates were certified by the Secretary of State on September 3. Of the write-in candidates, their party affiliation consists of two Democrats, one Republican, one American Independent, and three no party preference.
The Richard Nixon Foundation announced plans for two debates during the month of August 2021: the first on August 4, and the second on August 22. The first debate was a 90-minute televised event held at the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California. Six Republican candidates (Faulconer, Elder, Cox, Jenner, Kiley, and Ose) were invited to participate, along with Newsom. The Nixon Foundation announced that all the Republican candidates, with the exception of Jenner, had accepted the invitation, and Gov. Newsom had not responded. A day after the debate was announced with Elder as a participant, the Elder campaign issued a statement that he would not attend the debate.
During the August 17 debate in Sacramento, Cox was served with a subpoena while on stage, and on camera. The subpoena by a San Diego County court was for failure to pay a debt of about $100,000 from his 2018 gubernatorial campaign. Ose had initially accepted the invitation to appear at the same debate, but dropped out of the race the day of the debate, and therefore did not attend. Elder announced that he would not attend the debate, nor any other debate in which Newsom is not attending.
During the August 25 debate in Sacramento, Kevin Paffrath called on the other three candidates onstage (Faulconer, Cox, and Kiley) to drop out of the race and endorse him, stating he feared a lame-duck governor would get nothing done.
The table below contains all candidates who have polled at or above 2% since the filing deadline for the recall, have raised at least $100,000 (excluding loans and including at least $5,000 in the most recent filing period), are a current or former elected official, or are otherwise considered notable in their own right. The graphical summary includes all candidates who meet at least one of these criteria and have appeared in at least four separate publicly-released polls.
After some blueprints of the Dominion Voting Systems voting machines were leaked, a group of eight cybersecurity experts called, in a letter to Secretary of State Shirley Weber, for rigorous auditing of the recall election with a risk-limiting audit to mitigate any cyberattack risk. The experts wrote that they had no evidence of a hacking threat, and did not cast any blame on Dominion, but said that the state and counties should take steps to ensure that "the release of the Dominion software into the wild" did not increase election security risks. The California Secretary of State's office said the 40 counties in California using Dominion election management system use a different version of the software that meets state requirements, and noted that California election systems have layered security protections, including routine vulnerability testing, pre-election testing, access controls, and physical security. California also uses paper ballots with a voter-verified paper audit trail, another security measure.
The day before the election, Elder's website asserted that fraud had already been detected and linked to a petition for citizens to sign "demanding a special session of the California legislature to investigate and ameliorate the twisted results" of the election. The entrance of Elder into the race, his affiliations with and support for Donald Trump, and his status as a front-runner have been widely reported to have helped Newsom's campaign by connecting the recall to Trump and the national Republican Party, with neck and neck polls mid-summer reverting in Newsom's favor by the time of the recall election.CNN,CBS News,NBC News,The New York Times, and others projected that Newsom would successfully defeat the recall effort.
2021 California gubernatorial recall election (question 1)
No on recall
Yes on recall
Blank and invalid votes
Registered voters and turnout
2021 California gubernatorial recall election (question 2)
It is expected that, when all ballots are counted, overall turnout in the election will exceed 50% of registered voters.
The number of votes cast on the recall question (question 1) was vastly greater than votes cast on the replacement question (question 2). Newsom's official message to voters had been to vote "no" on recall, and to ignore the replacement question. For comparison, in the 2003 recall election, replacement votes had around 430,000 more votes than votes on the recall question.
^Due to legislation introduced by state Democratic lawmakers in 2017 to delay or prevent the recall of Democratic State Senator Josh Newman
^The law also imposed a similar disclosure requirement on presidential candidates, primarily aimed at forcing Donald Trump to release his most recent tax returns when he ran in 2020. The disclosure requirement for presidential candidates was struck down by the courts.
^Candidates without financial information listed presumably have raised or spent less than $2000 in the calendar year as that is the threshold requirement for filing a campaign statement.
^Jenner's views on transgender issues have been criticized by other trans and LGBTQ+ activists.
^ abcdefghijklmnoThe press release announcing the endorsement was made before the recall was announced, so the press release only references the 2022 campaign for governor. The endorsements have been reported, with less details, in mainstream media outlets.
^As a political organizer, Heatlie directed the successful effort to collect recall petition signatures from voters, which ultimately led to the recall election.
^"Recall of Governor Gavin Newsom, Filed by Orrin E. Heatlie: Extension of Time to Circulate Petitions and Revised Calendar of Events". memorandumNo. 20251ofNovember 17, 2020(PDF). Secretary of State of California.