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The Election to Unseat California Gov. Gavin Newsom Is Next Week. Here’s What You Need to Know.


California Governor Gavin Newsom seen giving a thumbs-up at an event in Monterey, California.

The California gubernatorial recall election aimed at unseating Governor Gavin Newsom (D) is just one week away. As we approach the Sept. 14th election day, controversies over the election process are peaking.

Here’s what you need to know about what’s happening in the Golden State.

1. The Ninth Circuit may or may not still rule that the entire recall election process is unconstitutional.

Two California voters filed a federal lawsuit against the State of California, alleging that its recall procedure violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Their argument (which lost at the district court level) is that California’s two-step recall process deprives Newsom supporters of equal representation in the election.

California’s ballot will ask voters two questions: first, whether Newsom should be recalled; second, whom voters choose as a replacement. If more than 50 percent of voters vote to recall Newsom, then the votes for  a replacement candidate are counted. Given this process, there is a possibility that more voters would vote against a recall than would vote in favor of any one replacement. For example, there might be a 51%/49% vote in favor of a recall, followed by a “winning” replacement candidate who receives only 30 percent of the votes (but still more votes than any other replacement candidate).

Plaintiffs filed an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Sept. 5th, asking the court to rule on an emergency motion by September 8th.

“Under the present regime,” reads the appellate brief, “those who vote for recall get two votes, so that §15(c) impermissibly and federally-unconstitutionally restricts, and therefore dilutes, the votes of voters who are against the recall, denying them of equal protection under the law.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said via email statement that they are currently awaiting a ruling from the 9th Circuit.

2. A viral online rumor spread that holes were placed in ballot envelopes to allow election officials to identify and discard votes in favor of recalling Newsom.

In recent weeks, several videos were posted online showing a hole punched into the ballot-return envelope.

“They can literally see if you vote yes or no,” the speaker in one video says, “and they will throw it away if you vote yes.” She continues, “[t]hat is why there are holes where his name is.”

State officials, however, responded to the online controversy, explaining that the holes have been used for years as an accessibility feature for the visually impaired. The Center for Civic Design, the organization that designed the ballot, explained on its website that, “[t]he two holes act as a guide for blind and low-vision voters so they can sign independently.” Furthermore, the California Secretary of State operates a website specifically for voters to track their ballots and ensure their individual votes are counted.

3. Police recently arrested a felon found with guns, drugs, and hundreds of ballots. Another viral rumor falsely says there’s proof this was part of plot to help Newsom win.

The Torrance, California Police Department published a post on Facebook including four pictures of items seized during a call to a man in a 7-Eleven parking lot.

The photos showed a loaded gun, a bag of white powder, a cup of pills, and a bin of mail. Police captioned the post, saying the man “was a felon” and that in addition to the firearm and drugs, they found “thousands of pieces of mail,” “multiple CA drivers licenses and credit cards in other individuals’ names.” “The suspect was arrested for numerous weapons, narcotics & forgery charges,” detailed the post, which ultimately reached over 1.57 million people.

Sergeant Mark Ponegalek of the Torrance Police Department told ABC News that authorities found “a little over 300” election ballots which had been “un-tampered with, unopened,” and were “primarily from addresses in Lawndale.” The Los Angeles County Registrar’s office commented that the ballots in question had been sent out—but were neither filled out nor returned by voters. The office also said that there was no indication of any specific attempt to influence the results of the election.

4. One of Newsom’s possible replacements is spouting some very Trump-like election talking points.

Conservative talk show host Larry Elder is a Republican front-runner for Newsom’s possible replacement.

Elder has repeatedly said on various media platforms that the 2020 presidential election was “full of shenanigans.” During an appearance on Fox News Monday, Elder said, “my fear is they’re going to try that in this election right here and recall.” He continued, urging supporters, “[w]henever you see anything, hear anything suspicious, go to my website,” and vowing that with his “battery of lawyers” at the ready, “[w]e’re going to file a lawsuit in a timely fashion this time.”

Elder also made headlines for suggesting that former slave owners might be entitled to reparations for slavery, and saying that government has “no role in sex education in our schools at all.” Elder’s ex-fiancée also recently accused him of brandishing a gun at her in 2015.

Although California voters have attempted to recall many of their governors in recent years, this is just the second time in the state’s history that a recall effort has proceeded all the way to an actual election. The last time California came this far, Democratic Governor Gray Davis was ultimately replaced by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.

[image via Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos