PD Editorial: Vote early, but stick with mail ballots for California’s recall
California’s gubernatorial recall election already has almost six dozen potential candidates, dueling TV ad campaigns, even an animal rights lawsuit involving a rented bear.
What the recall doesn’t have yet is a date. But that may change soon — and the election may come sooner than expected.
As state lawmakers wrap up work on the 2021-22 budget, Democrats in Sacramento agreed to pick up $215 million in estimated expenses for the state’s 58 counties. They also want to speed up the clock on the election.
And why not?
The recall is a partisan gambit by the Republican Party, which hasn’t won a statewide election in California since 2007 but recognized an opportunity when Gov. Gavin Newsom attended a lobbyist’s birthday dinner at a swanky Napa Valley restaurant during the coronavirus lockdown.
Seven months later, with polls showing Newsom comfortably ahead and the state emerging from the lockdown, no one should be surprised if Democrats play politics, too.
But their latest plan threatens to go a step too far.
In addition to authorizing state payment of county costs for the recall, a budget trailer would considerably shorten the window for calling the election, bringing it up from November to late August or September.
That’s fine, too — so long as the recall is consolidated with previously scheduled local elections.
Our choice would be Sept. 14, which would coincide with Sonoma County’s district attorney recall. County election officials around the state also favor Sept. 14, or later, explaining in a letter this week that they will need at least that much time to get ballots and other election material printed.
Here’s the potential problem with the Democrats’ plan: Legislators are contemplating setting aside the 2020 plan that produced a record 17.7 million votes — and California’s largest turnout of registered voters in a presidential election since 1976.
For the 2020 election, a ballot was mailed to every active voter, and counties reduced the number of in-person voting precincts. The state has encouraged counties to make that standard practice for all elections. But Assembly Bill 152, a budget trailer bill awaiting action in a Senate committee, would restore pre-pandemic rules for the recall.
Donna Johnston, the Sutter County registrar of voters and president of the state association of election officials, told CalMatters that AB 152 would require more in-person polling places, open for more days. Counties would have to find those locations and the people to staff them.
If the full complement of voting precincts is open, presumably only permanent absentee voters would automatically get a ballot in the mail.
A ballot arriving in the mail might get returned, even if someone somehow missed John Cox’s rented bear, Caitlyn Jenner’s cliché-packed TV interviews and whatever recall shenanigans are yet to come. Meanwhile, history tells us that voters show up in smaller numbers for off-year elections, especially an off-year election held on an unusual date. That could benefit Democrats, who have a big edge in voter registration and strong motivation to hang on to the governor’s office.
California Democrats, like their counterparts across the country, are indignant about Republican efforts to suppress the vote in other states — and justifiably so. There’s no excuse for rewriting rules that increased participation here, even if it might advance Democrats’ goal of defeating the recall.
If Democrats want to get the election over with, that’s OK. But they shouldn’t try to stack the deck. Stick with the 2020 rules and send everyone a ballot.
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