Final California recall results are in: Here's the margin of Gavin Newsom's victory
California certified the results of the gubernatorial recall on Friday, showing that Gov. Gavin Newsom not only defeated the attempt to remove him from office but also won with the exact same margin as his victory in the 2018 election.
Secretary of State Shirley Weber certified the results Friday, showing that 61.9% of votes were to retain the governor, while 38.1% were to remove him.
That's the same margin Newsom beat Republican John Cox by in 2018 — 61.9% to 38.1%.
In terms of actual ballots, not percentages, Newsom won 7,944,092 votes, nearly 3 million more than the 4,894,473 votes cast to remove him, and 222,000 more than the number of votes he won in 2018.
Californians cast a total of 12,892,578 in the recall, according to the Secretary of State, that's 3,479,084 more votes than were cast in the last statewide gubernatorial recall election in 2003. Of all registered voters, 58.45% turned out for the recall.
Newsom backers said the high turnout was proof that California voters are motivated to keep a "Trump Republican" out of office and that the results of the recall bode well for the governor's reelection bid next year.
"I think it just kind of goes to show you that this really never was a referendum against the governor," said Juan Rodriguez, campaign manager for Newsom's recall defense.
Democrats at the start of the campaign were concerned about turnout. Polling showed Democratic voters were not particularly motivated by the recall, and some worried that such an unusual election in an off-cycle year would hamper turnout. At one point over the summer, it appeared the enthusiasm gap between Democratic and Republican voters would make the recall a close race.
Rodriguez attributed the recall's defeat to a robust messaging and volunteer campaign. From the start, Newsom's team worked to paint the recall as a "power grab" by Republicans. They successfully prevented other powerful Democrats from entering the race and warned voters that a Republican governor could bring dire consequences to California.
Republican radio host Larry Elder's entrance to the race solidified that message for Democrats. Newsom's campaign highlighted Elder's libertarian stances on women, race, and labor relations to motivate Democratic voters.
"Part of what ended up waking up the base was the fear of a Trump Republican ultimately being elected in California," Rodriguez said
Democrats rounded out the recall campaign with appearances from Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden, and less than an hour after polls closed on Sept. 14, Newsom was the clear victor.
Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc. and voter roll guru, said voter turnout in the recall was "crazy high," especially given the unusual circumstances of a special election.
"It'd be surprising to me that we have this kind of turnout even in 2022," he said.
Mail-in ballots also could have contributed to the higher turnout. Over the last decade, the number of California voters casting ballots by mail has grown substantially.
In 2018, 65.31% of votes were cast by mail. California in 2020 sent mail ballots to all voters because of the coronavirus pandemic. The percentage of mail-in ballots cast rose to 86.72% in the general election.
Counties sent all California registered voters mail-in ballots for the recall, too. Weber's office on Friday reported 91.01% of voters used mail ballots in that election.
Under a new law signed by Newsom last month, vote by mail will now be automatic for all voters in all elections.
"As I've said before, democracy matters to Californians and giving them the option to participate early by mail, at secure drop-off locations or safely in person has clearly reinforced their commitment to making their voices heard," Weber said in a statement Friday.
Mitchell said environmental factors, like enthusiasm and political messaging, have a significant effect on turnout. But the state has also done everything it can to facilitate high turnout elections.
"All the mechanical pieces are dialed up to 11," Mitchell said. "You've got statewide automatic voter registration, you've got ballots coming to every voter, you have every avenue available for people to remedy if their ballot has a bad signature or some kind of other issue."
Looking to 2022, the recall may have hampered Republicans' chances of success, Mitchell said.
"This is a point in time right now where campaigns for governor for '22 should be putting together their campaign teams, doing fundraising and building messaging... instead they're still licking their wounds from a recall that didn't give them anything," he said.