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What is at Stake for an Equity Agenda in California’s Recall Election?

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

California Governor Gavin Newsom was elected in 2018 with 62% of the votes, a victory margin not seen in nearly seven decades. On September 14, 2021, California’s voters will be asked to weigh in on whether or not he should be recalled.  

The special election will take place on September 14, 2021 with vote-by-mail ballots being sent out starting on August 16, 2021. It is critically important that all California voters engage in this election. This recall has direct influence on efforts to advance racial equity and social justice in California. The results of this election have the potential to shift power within the State of California, and subsequently, in Washington, D.C.  

What is at stake with the recall election? 

There are real implications for advancing racial equity and social justice. If Governor Newsom is recalled, new political leaders could close the window on policy opportunities that advance racial equity and social justice efforts in key areas such as homelessness, housing, COVID-19 response and recovery, LGBT rights, and wildfire response.  

Voter turnout rates are typically lower in special and midterm elections, and for this recall election, those most interested in recalling the governor are more likely to be motivated to cast their votes. This means that a gubernatorial contender could take office with minimal support across all California voters, and the results may not be representative of all Californians or their collective needs. According to a recent article in CalMatters, “the California electorate is older, better educated, wealthier, and more likely to be white than the Californians who don’t vote.”  

The gap between the voting public and Californians as a whole can make election results unrepresentative. The article went on to point out that about 4 in 10 African Americans (39%) and Latinos (41%) were either mislisted or unlisted, compared to just 18% of non-Hispanic whites. Although each eligible voter will be sent a vote-by-mail ballot, there is no guarantee it will reach them, especially true for voters of color. Even if ballots arrive, a lack of enthusiasm by potential voters could result in a skewed election.  

A lack of engagement will complicate voter engagement strategies in communities of color. While recall supporters sit across a wide spectrum of political views, it is important to not only weigh-in based on a single issue, such as a school reopenings, but have a broader social lens that prioritizes collective community health and advances the notion of social equity. It is imperative to understand that communities of color throughout California could be left at a disadvantage if a new policy agenda is introduced that does not prioritize their needs.  

A winner could declare victory with very minimal support. There are no viable candidates at the bottom of the ballot in this election. Recent polls by Emerson College/Nextstar Media and the Berkeley Institute of Government Studies/Los Angeles Times showed that no gubernatorial candidate has more than 18% support. As many as 53% of potential voters polled were undecided on replacement candidates, underscoring the volatility of the potential outcome. One thing is certain-- a minority of eligible voters could determine California’s future. We must ask ourselves: Could we live with a governor elected by less than 6% of the electorate in the nation’s most diverse state impacting more than 40 million residents? Will that governor meet the diverse needs of communities throughout California? 

The philanthropic sector has the opportunity to support a free and fair election by:  

  • Educating stakeholders about the importance of this election and what it could mean for a more equitable California.  
  • Engaging community leaders to reactivate voting efforts, especially in communities of color, for youth, and low-propensity voters. Hybrid strategies that include virtual and safe in-person engagement are necessary to mobilize voters. 
  • Leveraging your platforms to communicate what is at stake with this election.  
  • Using your voice to express your concerns and encouraging the communities you serve to get out the vote.  
  • For additional resources and thoughts, please check out this piece by Rebecca Hamburg at the California Donor Table

What to Know about Particpating

1. Voter Registration: You must be registered to vote. If you are not registered, you can register to vote here

2. Voting Options. You will be able to vote by mail, and local in-person options should also be available. You can check in with your County administrator

You will be able to vote by mail, and local in-person options should also be available. You can check in with your County administrator.

3. Voting Timeline: Ballots will be sent out to all eligible California voters beginning August 16, 2021. 

4. Ballot Questions: The ballot will only contain two questions:  

Question 1: Shall GAVIN NEWSOM be recalled (removed) from the office of Governor?  

Question 2: Candidates to succeed GAVIN NEWSOM as Governor if he is recalled: The replacement would have to run for re-election in 2022. Californians who vote "no" on question one can still vote for one of the 46 candidates on question two and have their votes counted, meaning the many anti-recall voters in the state will still have a say in who might replace Newsom if the recall is successful. According to recent poll, there is a not a clear majority leader.