OAKLAND — California recall contestants, start your engines: We have a date.
Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis ended months of speculation Thursday by calling the gubernatorial recall election for Sept. 14.
A Democrat, Kounalakis announced the date shortly after California elections chief Shirley Weber certified the contest to determine Gov. Gavin Newsom's fate.
More than 1.7 million voters signed petitions to qualify the recall election, according to Weber, a Newsom appointee. It officially marks the state's second-ever gubernatorial recall after the 2003 election that gave rise to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The scores of contenders seeking to replace Newsom will now have about two weeks to officially declare their candidacies before the filing deadline. That also creates an intense time crunch for Newsom’s efforts to correct a legal error and be listed as a Democrat on the ballot: Newsom’s lawyers are due to argue their case in court next Friday, about a week before elections officials will finalize the list of candidates.
Sept. 14 became the likeliest spot on the calendar under the parameters Kounalakis had to work with. Once Weber certified the election, Kounalakis had to pick a date 60 to 80 days from now. Only three Tuesdays fit that bill, and local election officials had said Sept. 14 was the earliest they could reasonably hold the contest.
“Although the window of time from which I could select a date was narrow, I believe we have chosen a fair and reasonable date for this election to take place,” said Kounalakis said, adding that Sept. 14 “gives election officials and the public ample time to ensure a smooth election with broad participation.”
Weber moved swiftly after Newsom's Department of Finance released its cost analysis earlier in the day, which pegged the price tag at $276 million. The Department of Finance's conclusion would typically trigger the Legislature's financial analysis. But Democratic legislators had already changed state law to waive their fiscal review, speeding up the timeline to set a vote.
Local elections officials face the Herculean undertaking of coordinating a statewide election in a matter of months. Complicating the task, Newsom signed legislation earlier this year requiring counties to mail every registered voter a ballot, which means elections officials must locate enough paper to print millions of ballots — but they must wait until the candidate filing period closes 59 days before the election, which could yield scores of hopefuls given the low bar to entry.
Elections officials spotlighted those challenges earlier this month when they urged Kounalakis to set an election for no sooner than Sept. 14.
While political observers once believed an early November election would best benefit Newsom by conforming to the typical rhythms of the election cycle, helping to boost turnout in an off-year election, that logic has shifted as California has reopened its economy and Newsom's polling numbers have stabilized.
Democrats increasingly believe that Newsom would benefit from an earlier vote that allows him to capitalize on that momentum while depriving Republican foes of time to organize and fundraise.
Republicans have objected to legislative Democrats condensing the timeline on those grounds, arguing the majority party is manipulating the process to protect Newsom. In waiving the cost analysis, Democrats reversed a mandate they put in place in 2017 as part of an effort to delay the recall of state Sen. Josh Newman so it could be consolidated with a primary election.
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