California’s Top Elections Official on What You Need to Know About Voting in the Recall

Secretary of State Shirley Weber talks same-day voting options, Proposition 17 and what it means, and more

“It’s probably the most important election that most of us will have in our lifetime,” says Dr. Shirley N. Weber by phone from Sacramento. Weber is California’s Secretary of State, the chief election officer for the state. Right now, she’s urging eligible Californians to flex their right to vote in the September 14 gubernatorial recall election. “It’s an election that will either accept the leadership of a person or want new leadership right away. I encourage every Californian to have an opinion about it, to vote and weigh in on it because it is really important.”

The recall election is unusual for a few reasons. While there have been plenty of attempts to recall state officials in California since 1913, relatively few have made it to the ballot. The only other gubernatorial recall election took place in 2003, when Arnold Schwarzenegger ultimately unseated Gray Davis.

Moreover, your ballot only has two questions. First, it asks if Governor Newsom should be recalled, or removed, from office. Then the ballot asks the voter to select one person out of a list of 46 candidates to succeed Newsom, should he be recalled. That’s where a lot of voters might be confused. “Keep in mind that, it’s a simple ballot, but the premises are different,” says Weber, who was appointed by Newsom after former Secretary of State Alex Padilla went to the Senate to replace Vice President Kamala Harris.

Whether or not the governor is recalled depends on a majority vote. That’s the easy part. However, if a majority votes yes on the recall, the successor is simply the candidate who gets the most votes.

“The replacement could be a person who has 20 percent of the vote, 15 percent of the vote. They don’t have to have the majority,” says Weber. “If you look at the numbers, there are 46 people. It’s not likely that someone is going to end up with the majority vote.”

Also, there’s no runoff election. “Whoever we end up with would be the person with the most votes, but may not have the majority,” she says. Also, if Californians recall Governor Newsom, the successor will take over as soon as the Secretary of State’s office declares a winner.

As for your own ballot, it’s not necessary to answer both questions. “Each one of the questions is really independent of each other,” says Weber. “Whatever you do on that ballot will count.”

If you do want to select a potential successor, but don’t know much about the candidates, there’s an official voter information guide with all that information. If you haven’t received one in the mail, you can find a PDF version on the Secretary of State’s website.

By now, anyone who was already a registered voter should have received a ballot in the mail. If you don’t have yours, contact your local registrar’s office. If you recently registered to vote, your ballot should be coming soon.

Also, although August 30 was the deadline to register to vote online, you can still do what’s known as Same Day Voter Registration. “You would have what we call a provisional ballot because we have to verify that you’re eligible to vote and that you haven’t voted somewhere else,” says Weber. The Secretary of State’s website has a list of polling places where you can do this.

Last year, California passed Proposition 17, which restores voting rights for people on parole and that’s already gone into effect. “Prop 17 says that, if you’re on parole, you can vote in California, where, before, everyone could vote except for those who were in prison—state or federal prison—or on parole,” says Weber. “Now, we’ve taken the parole piece away and we’ve enfranchised about 40-to-50,000 additional individuals on the California rolls. We have sent all of those individuals letters to say you can now vote.”

California is also continuing with a lot of the voting options that were made available in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We saw record turnouts in November, some because of the issues that were before us, but equally important because we made it accessible and we made it easy to vote and we’re doing that this time,” says Weber. She adds that a lot of those fixes—early voting, mail-in ballots, and ballot drop boxes—were already available, but have been optional and only used in some counties, known as VCA (Voter’s Choice Act) counties.

If you’re in Los Angeles County, you may have already received a mailer with several nearby polling places. These may include polls that are open between September 11 and September 14, as well as some spots, like Union Station, that open as early as September 4. You can also go to to find a voting center near you. If you want to submit your ballot at a drop box, you can find one in your area on the website as well. You can also check the website for information, including hotline numbers, regarding accessibility and multilingual services.

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