Constitutional Amendment Proposed to Strengthen California’s Recall System

New reform helps protect taxpayers from footing the bill of political gamesmanship in state recall elections

Sacramento, CA — California Common Cause announced it is sponsoring a constitutional amendment that seeks to ensure statewide and legislative recalls in California are more democratic, more representative, and better protected against misuse at the hands of partisan agitators. Introduced today by Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), SCA 1 changes how state-level recall elections are conducted so that only one question will appear on a recall ballot, creating a more direct, trustworthy, and cost-effective process.

“While the recall is an important democratic tool that should be preserved for when it is truly needed, too often California’s state recall process does not inspire confidence in the integrity of our electoral system and does not ensure that decisions reflect the will of the people. This constitutional amendment will change that,” said Jonathan Mehta Stein, Executive Director of California Common Cause. “This amendment strengthens our state’s democracy by reducing the opportunity for bad actors to abuse the recall system and protects our institutional processes against anti-democratic minority rule.”

This constitutional amendment comes in the wake of the attempted 2021 recall of Governor Gavin Newsom, where Californians paid over $200 million for Newsom to remain in his position with a nearly-identical margin to that of his inaugural 2018 win. Polling conducted by PPIC during and after this election showed that a majority of California voters saw the recall as a waste of taxpayer money and wanted the opportunity to vote on future reforms.

As the system currently stands, taxpayer money is spent on a recall election before voters can even decide if they want to recall the elected official in the first place. California’s recall ballot accomplishes this by simultaneously asking voters two questions: one to decide if an official should be removed from office, and another to decide who would replace that official, should the recall pass. California is among 19 states with a recall process, but is among only two states that have a two-question ballot allowing for multiple candidates to run for a position that may not open.

Under SCA 1:

  • Only one question will appear on a state-level recall ballot, simply asking voters to decide if an elected official should be recalled from office or not.
  • If a recall is successful, the official will be replaced in the manner consistent with existing law if the official were to exit office for any other reason, except in the case of the Governor. 
  • In the case of a successful gubernatorial recall in the first two years of the Governor’s term, the Lieutenant Governor would take office and the replacement election would be consolidated with the next statewide primary election and subsequent statewide general election. 
  • If the recall is successful in the last two years of the Governor’s term, the Lieutenant Governor would serve as Governor for the remainder of a recalled Governor’s term.

“We need a state recall system that works as an agent of democracy, not as a disruption to it,” said Laurel Brodzinsky, California Common Cause’s legislative director. “Our proposed amendment makes the recall process less confusing for voters while ensuring taxpayer dollars will not be wasted in attempted partisan power-grabs.”

SCA 1 would ensure that a replacement governor can not be selected by plurality vote at a low-turnout recall election. It would also create a disincentive for use of gubernatorial recalls as political footballs, because a successful recall would mean California would have a duly elected constitutional officer in the Governor’s seat, instead of the preferred candidate of the opposition.

This amendment is co-sponsored by California Secretary of State Shirley Weber and the League of Women Voters of California. SCA 1 is principle coauthored by Assemblymember Issac Bryan, Chair of the Assembly Elections Committee, with additional coauthors including Senators Tom Umberg, Caroline Menjivar, and Catherine Blakespear. 

Should SCA 1 pass both houses of the Legislature with a two-thirds vote, it will head to the 2024 ballot to be approved by California voters.

See More: Voting & Elections