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Costly and confusing California recall sparks reform effort

The rules governing California’s recall elections will be subject to further scrutiny and possible change, as two state lawmakers said on Wednesday that the failure of efforts to impeach Gov. Gavin Newsom was too costly and unnecessarily confusing.

Although election results remained incomplete after Tuesday’s contest, supporters of the recall found their efforts short of millions of votes with projections that Newsom easily garnered enough support to complete the final year of his current term. . California lawmakers have agreed to spend at least $ 276 million in the latest state budget to cover the costs of the recall, but some election officials have estimated the final bill will be closer to $ 300 million.

“This money could be spent on housing, the homeless, tackling climate change, forest fires, early childhood education, and so on. Said MP Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park), chairman of the Assembly’s Election Committee. “There is a lot of desire and need to reform the recall process. “

Voters were given the power to remove an elected official before the end of their term through an amendment to the California Constitution in 1911. In the years that followed, only one small change was made to the removal process. Although most recall efforts failed to qualify for the ballot, similar concerns about the rules were raised in 2003 when the government of the day. Gray Davis, a Democrat, was ousted in favor of Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Berman and his counterpart on the State Senate Elections Committee, Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), said on Wednesday they intended to launch a bipartisan effort by the start of the year next to review existing procedures governing statewide recalls and a number of reform ideas. processes that have been proposed in recent weeks by academics and constitutional scholars. Any substantive change will need to be approved by California voters in the state’s primary or general election next year.

“Voters want to see a more democratic process put in place that holds elected officials to account, that prevents the political playing of the rules,” Glazer said at a press conference Wednesday.

Others also called for a broad review of the recall elections. MP Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin), whose recall replacement candidacy drew around 160,000 votes in returns on Wednesday, urged Democratic lawmakers to include careful scrutiny of campaign finance laws, posting on Twitter that the “quirk of unlimited campaign contributions” for the recalled incumbent allowed Newsom to bombard the airwaves with television commercials.

On Monday, a poll conducted by UC Berkeley’s Institute for Government Studies and co-sponsored by The Times found that a majority of voters polled said they supported several options to revise the recall rules. Of the five options on offer, the overwhelming majority of voters polled said they would support the creation of a run-off – if a governor or state official was recalled and no replacement candidate won a majority of the votes. votes cast.

“For me, the biggest problem is that we currently have a process where a governor can be recalled and replaced by someone who gets fewer votes than the governor got,” Berman said. “It’s kind of the big foundational piece that I want to see changed.”

Other potential changes mentioned in Berkeley’s IGS survey included a higher threshold for candidates seeking to run in the replacement election and a greater number of voter signatures needed to trigger a recall.

The poll, conducted in the first week of September, also revealed widespread frustration over the price to be paid for a statewide stand-alone election. Sixty-one percent of likely voters said they believed the recall against Newsom was “a waste of taxpayer money,” the strongest reaction to the survey’s statements which aimed to gauge what voters thought of the election.

Democratic lawmakers have been asked if their upcoming hearings will include a discussion of how election administration rules have been written and rewritten affecting the timing of recall elections. Democrats pushed through a change in 2017 to slow down the recall election schedule in hopes of helping State Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) avoid dismissal. The effort did not save Newman, who was removed from his post in 2018, but subsequently reclaimed his Senate seat last year.

This summer, Democratic legislative leaders amended the 2017 law, once again speeding up the recall process in hopes of capitalizing on improving COVID-19 conditions that could spur Newsom’s attempt to postpone the forbidden election. by his Republican critics.

“I would say everything is subject to review,” Glazer said of the changes proposed by supporters of the election law. I think that’s part of what we want to accomplish here, it’s a more comprehensive review.