The polls are open in California: Gov. Gavin Newsom seeks to fend off Larry Elder in recall election

  • Voters are being asked two questions on their ballot: Should Gov. Gavin Newsom be recalled? If more than 50% of voters say yes, then the next question will be key: Who should replace him?
  • The first polls in the state close at 8 p.m. PDT and a flood of results are expected from mail-in ballots and early-in person votes.
  • Only twice in U.S. history has a governor been removed from office via recall; in North Dakota in 1921; and in California in 2003.

LOS ANGELES – Tuesday is decision day in California and voters from the country’s most populous state will get the chance to decide whether they will keep Gov. Gavin Newsom or recall him.

It’s been a winding path to get here, but polls showed the Democrat is likely to keep his job leading a state that is known nationally as a liberal trendsetter. 

Regardless of the result, the election itself is both rare and historic. A Newsom recall would potentially send shockwaves across the country and throughout the Democratic Party.

Only twice in U.S. history has a governor been removed from office via recall; in North Dakota in 1921; and in California in 2003, when Gray Davis was removed and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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On the eve of the election, Newsom got a boost from President Joe Biden, with the commander in chief telling voters at a campaign rally that the “eyes of the nation are on California.” Biden warned Monday in Long Beach, California, that removing the first-term governor would carry consequences that would reverberate around the nation and risk returning to the “dark, destructive, divisive politics” of former President Donald Trump.

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Meanwhile, Republican frontrunner, conservative radio host Larry Elder, labeled by Biden as a “Trump clone,” predicted victory.

“Make sure you have your friends vote, vote, vote, and try and get 10 more friends to vote and hit every call, make every call, knock on every door, we’re gonna win this thing if we turn out the vote,” Elder said this week.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder speaks to supporters during an Asian Rally for Yes Recall at the Asian Garden Mall in Little Saigon, Westminster, California, on September 4, 2021.

How the California recall works

Voters will be asked two questions on their ballot: Should Newsom be recalled? If more than 50% of voters say yes, then the next question will be key: Who should replace him?

Forty-six candidates will appear on the ballot. Elder has consistently been leading polls among those vying to replace Newsom. He will be stationed Tuesday in Costa Mesa, California, about 40 miles south of Los Angeles, with supporters.

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Other prominent Republican candidates running include Caitlyn Jenner, a former Olympic gold medalist who starred on the reality series “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”; former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer; California Assemblyman Kevin Kiley; and John Cox, a businessman who was easily defeated by Newsom in the 2018 gubernatorial election.

The only leading Democratic candidate who has emerged in the race is Kevin Paffrath, a real estate broker and YouTube personality.

When should we expect final results?

The first polls in the state close at 8 p.m. PDT and a flood of results are expected from mail-in ballots and early in-person votes. About 37% of the roughly 22 million ballots sent to California voters had been returned as of Monday, according to an analysis from Political Data Inc.

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Democrats had returned a larger share of those ballots than Republicans, meaning early results could show good signs for Newsom. But that might not last and the number of voters who turn out Tuesday will likely be crucial in deciding the race. 

California historically takes weeks to count all the votes in statewide elections. In 2020, when nearly 18 million people cast ballots, a third of the votes in the presidential election were counted after election night. Two years earlier, more than 40% were counted after Election Day.

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Mailed ballots can arrive up to a week after Tuesday and still be counted, as long as they are postmarked by Sept. 14. This process can take days or weeks. Mail ballots are generally counted in the order they are received, so the last ballots to be counted tend to be the last ones to arrive.

In 2020, Republicans were much less likely than Democrats to vote by mail in part because Trump repeatedly claimed that voting by mail was unsafe and susceptible to fraud.

If that trend continues, the results in the recall election could swing back and forth on election night, depending on which types of votes are being reported – mail ballots or in-person votes.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom greets President Joe Biden during a campaign event in Long Beach on Monday night.

Most California voters cast their ballots by mail, a trend that accelerated during the pandemic as many voters were reluctant to enter crowded polling places on Election Day. About 87% of California voters cast their ballots by mail in last year’s presidential election.

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For Tuesday’s election, all 22 million registered voters were sent a mail ballot.

Mail ballots take longer to process than in-person votes because election officials must remove the ballots from envelopes, check the voter’s registration and make sure that the voter’s signature on the envelope matches the one on file. Then the votes can be counted.

When voters cast ballots in person, officials perform security measures at the polling place so the votes can be counted soon after the polls close.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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