What California Voters Need to Know About the September 14 Recall Election

A hugely consequential recall race is underway. Have questions? We have answers

On September 14, California decides whether Governor Gavin Newsom will keep his job or whether someone else—most likely a Republican—will serve out the remainder of the former San Francisco mayor’s first term.

The high stakes and rare nature of the recall election—which will impact the state’s response to pressing issues including climate change and COVID safety—have left many of California’s 22 million registered voters with questions about how the crucial recall race works and how to ensure that their vote will be counted.

Here’s what voters need to know about this consequential election.

Who can vote in the recall election?

Any registered California voter can participate in the upcoming election. If you are not certain of your voter registration status, you can visit the state’s website. And you can easily register to vote online at lavote.net.

If you did not register to vote by 11:59 p.m. on Monday, August 30, you won’t receive a vote by mail ballot, but you can still vote in person at any vote center in Los Angeles County beginning September 4, according to Los Angeles Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office. Learn more about same-day voter registration here.

Do I have to answer both questions on the ballot?

There are two questions on the recall ballot:

“Shall Gavin Newsom be recalled (removed) from the office of Governor?”

If you’re convinced Newsom should be recalled, vote yes. If you think he should serve out the remainder of his term, vote no.

The second question prompts voters to select a candidate to succeed Newsom in the event that more than 50 percent of participants in the election vote “yes” and Newsom is forced to step down.

Do you have to answer both? No. Voters aren’t obligated to answer both questions on the ballot, and their vote will count even if they answer just one of the questions.

In fact, a voter can vote “no” to removing Newsom from office, but still select a replacement candidate. To keep their messaging clear—simply “vote no”—Newsom’s camp has repeatedly encouraged voters to leave the second question blank, but others have argued that “no” voters should still mark the replacement candidate they find least offensive so “yes” voters aren’t the only ones who have a say in who leads the state in the event that Newsom is recalled.

Who’s running to replace Newsom?

There are 46 candidates—24 Republicans, 9 Democrats, 10 candidates with no party preference, 2 members of the Green Party, and 1 Libertarian—vying for Newsom’s seat. Among the contenders are entertainers, business people, YouTubers, reality TV stars, a right-wing radio host, and a tiny handful of people with previous political experience, among them former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer and state assemblyman Kevin Kiley (both Republican).

The election has been described as a “circus” by more than one media outlet, and a quick spin through the official voter guide makes clear why.

I don’t like any of these options. Can I write in a replacement candidate? Maybe…Newsom?

Your write-in vote will only count if you select one of the candidates who is included on the state’s candidate list.

And Newsom is not eligible to be written in as a candidate. According to California election code, “A person whose recall is being sought cannot be a candidate to succeed themselves at a recall election.”

How do I submit my ballot? 

Even though the election is officially set for September 14, voting is very much underway. Voters who’ve received a vote by mail ballot can drop their completed ballot (don’t forget to sign the envelope!) in any mailbox, as long as they’re postmarked on or before election day. If they prefer, L.A. County voters can drop their completed, sealed, and signed ballots in one of 400 official drop boxes located throughout the county (find one near you here); ballots must land in a drop box by 8 p.m. on September 14. Vote by mail ballots can also be delivered to the polls by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Of course, voters can also elect to vote in person on Election Day, or in the days leading up to Election Day. L.A. County vote centers will be open September 4 through September 13 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily; on Election Day, vote centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. L.A. County voters can find a rundown of vote center locations here.

Can I track my ballot?

Yes. Voters can check to see when their ballot is received and counted by using California’s Ballottrax tool.

When will we know the results of the election?

County election officials have 30 days after the election to complete the official canvass, although result could be apparent much sooner. Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc., told the Sacramento Bee, “I think it’s very likely that we’ll know who won by late in the night on that Tuesday the 14th or potentially by the morning of the 15th.”

If the recall is successful, 38 days after the election the Secretary of State will certify the results and the new governor will be sworn into office.

What if Newsom is recalled, but he still has more votes than any of the other candidates on the recall ballot?

It won’t make a difference. The recall question is determined by a majority of votes. Therefore, if more than 50 percent of voters vote “yes” on the recall, then Newsom will be forced to step down. Then the contender who receives the most votes on the second ballot question will be California’s new governor.

What happens after the recall?

If a majority of voters vote “yes” on the first ballot question, then the recall is successful and Newsom will be removed from office. The replacement candidate who receives the most votes is elected for the remainder of the term of office through January 2, 2023, according to the California Secretary of State website.

If a majority of voters vote “no,” then Newsom will remain in office.

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