Rancho Santa Fe resident John Cox, who is running in the recall election against Gavin Newsom, campaigns with a bear. Photo by Chris Stone

On Sept. 14, Californians will vote on whether popular Democrat Gavin Newsom should be removed as governor. While Newsom retains support among most voters, the recall process may give his opponents in the Republican-backed challenge an edge they would not have in a typical election.

Here’s what you need to know.

What Are the Rules?

Opponents of a sitting governor petitioning to hold a recall election need signatures from the equivalent of 12 percent of the votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election. In this case that was 1,495,709 signatures.

Voters decide whether they want to remove the sitting governor and then on the same ballot choose a replacement. If more than 50% choose to end Newsom’s term, the replacement candidate with the most votes to succeed him, even if less than a majority, becomes governor.

Who’s Behind the Effort to Recall Newsom?

A former sheriff’s deputy named Orrin Heatlie and a group called the California Patriot Coalition began the recall campaign in February 2020, accusing Newsom of favoring illegal immigrants over U.S. citizens. They also complain that taxes are too high and that Newsom favored rationing water, an apparent reference to regulations during the state’s frequent droughts.

Pundits initially said the group was unlikely to gather enough signatures. But a judge in Sacramento ruled recall proponents could have extra time because of delays caused by coronavirus restrictions. That allowed the group to continue seeking signatures as frustration with some coronavirus-related shutdowns grew. And recalling Newsom was embraced by state and national Republicans and conservative media.

Could Newsom be Recalled?

Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor and California lieutenant governor, was elected in 2018 with 62% of the vote, a greater share than any other Democratic governor in the state’s history. His opponent, Republican John Cox of Rancho Santa Fe, garnered about 38% of the vote. A survey released in May by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that six in 10 Californians would vote to keep him in office if a recall election were held, while four in 10 would not.

Republicans have a chance. By law, Newsom is not allowed to appear on the second part of the ballot as a replacement for himself. So far, only Republicans have expressed interest in replacing him. A Democrat could jump in, but Newsom’s team fears that could make the governor more vulnerable.

Who Is Seeking to Replace Newsom?

While the state has not yet certified any official candidates, several Republicans are campaigning, including Cox, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and transgender celebrity Caitlin Jenner.

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