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Legislators consider recall election reform, call current codes ‘anti-democratic’

After the failed recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom, two Bay Area legislators are taking up the question: should this be allowed to happen again?

California’s current Constitution and election codes don’t lay out acceptable reasons for recalling a state elected official, such as the governor. Instead, recall proponents only need to provide signatures enough signatures to equal 12 percent of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, with at least 1 percent of voters from at least five counties.

In the 2021 recall election, that number was just under 1.5 million.

If a simple majority of voters vote to recall the elected official, the replacement candidate with the most votes becomes their successor — meaning that the elected official could be recalled even if more people voted for them than their successor.

State Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, chair of the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments, decried the current law as “anti-democratic” in a Wednesday news conference.

Glazer said:

“Californians want accountability from their leaders, which the recall process provides. But they don’t want this partisan manipulation, where a small minority can force an election and have a candidate prevail with less than a majority vote.”

In response, Glazer and Assemblymember Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, chair of the Assembly Committee on Elections, plan to hold a series of public joint hearings on possibilities for election reform. Their goal is to provide a comprehensive proposal that could be considered during the 2022 legislative session.

Berman said he hopes to have strong bipartisan support for and engagement in the hearings and has been speaking with other members of the state Legislature about achieving that hope.

Glazer said strong bipartisan support and a transparent process would contribute both to combating polarized partisanship and rebuilding trust in California elections.

Nothing is off the table, both legislators declared, but Glazer said neither he nor Berman were suggesting getting rid of the recall process entirely. In a recent poll by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, 75 percent of Californians said they favored keeping the recall process.

A smaller majority of those polled also favored reform efforts, such as defining what a recallable offense is and increasing the threshold of required signatures both for proponents of the recall and for candidates to be eligible to run in a recall.

Berman and Glazer said they would consider those options and more in conversations with other legislators, academics and legal experts through the public hearings, which Berman said would begin in October at the earliest.

The final decision, though, will be left to California voters, who Berman anticipated would welcome the changes.

Berman said:

“I’ve been getting a lot of emails over the past couple of weeks from constituents … screaming about the need for recall reform. … This is something that is front of mind for a lot of voters right now.”

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