Constitutional Amendment to Reform California’s Chaotic Recall Process Clears First Legislative Hurdle
Sacramento, Calif. —A constitutional amendment to reform and simplify California’s recall process passed out of the Senate Elections & Constitutional Amendments Committee yesterday, by a vote of 6-1. SCA 1, authored by Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), would simplify the state-level recall ballot to present voters with a single question: whether or not an official should be removed from office.
Under the provisions of SCA 1, the second question, in which voters are asked to select a replacement candidate in the event a majority support the recall, would be eliminated, and the vacancy would be filled in the same manner as if the official had resigned or was removed from office for any other reason.
“The unfortunate reality is that our recall system in its current form incentivizes political opportunism and gamesmanship when it comes to recall elections,” said Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton). “By simplifying the recall process to focus firmly on the probity and fitness of an elected official, as opposed to his or her prospective replacements, SCA 1 will restore and reaffirm the value of the recall process as a just and measured check on corrupt or malfeasant state-level public officials as originally intended by its framers.”
Of the 19 states with constitutionally prescribed recall processes, California is just one of two that require a two-question recall ballot which allows for candidates to win political office without necessarily receiving a majority of votes cast. Recent statewide recall elections in California have shown that under this two-question ballot structure, a recall candidate could conceivably replace an incumbent with a plurality of as little as 15% of the total electorate, far less than the standard required under normal electoral conditions.
“We had 46 gubernatorial replacement candidates in the 2021 gubernatorial election. The short turnaround time for recall elections does not allow sufficient time for voters to both consider the recall question and vet a replacement out of an enormous field of candidates,” said Secretary of State Shirley N. Weber, Ph.D. “If voters decide to recall an elected official, this legislation will give voters more time to make an informed decision about their choice of a replacement.”
Polling during and after the 2021 recall election of Governor Gavin Newsom revealed Californians’ frustrations with the recall process. A July 2021 poll from the Yankelovich Center at UC San Diego finding 68% of voters wanted changes to the recall process, with a March 2022 poll from the Public Policy Institute of California finding 59% of voters wanted the opportunity to vote on a proposition to reform to the recall process.
SCA 1 now moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee. As an amendment to the California Constitution, SCA 1 requires a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature before it may be presented to voters for their consideration in the 2024 Presidential Election.
SCA 1 is supported by the California Secretary of State, California Common Cause, and the League of Women Voters of California. The measure is principle coauthored by the Chair of the Assembly Elections Committee, Assemblymember Issac Bryan (D-Los Angeles). Additional coauthors include Senators Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana), Caroline Menjivar (D-San Fernando Valley), and Catherine Blakespear (D-Encinitas).
To schedule an interview with Senator Newman, contact Brendan Hughes at 916.651.4029.
State Senator Josh Newman represents the 29th Senate District, which is comprised of portions of Los Angeles County, Orange County, and San Bernardino County. The 29th District includes all or parts of the cities of Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Chino Hills, City of Industry, Cypress, Diamond Bar, Fullerton, La Habra, La Palma, Placentia, Rowland Heights, Stanton, Walnut, West Covina and Yorba Linda. Senator Newman is a former United States Army officer, businessperson, and veterans’ advocate, and lives in Fullerton with his wife and daughter.