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Recall Election Reform: Forgetting that the talking points were only that

Uploaded: Sep 16, 2021
Campaign talking points that make no sense can take on a life of their own simply through repetition. Competent politicians interested in good government would know this and have a cooling-off period before proceeding. However, less than 24 hours after the polls closed, Marc Berman, the State Assemblymember for this district (^the 24th^) announced his legislative committee would be holding hearings on "reforming" the state law on recall elections. See Berman's press release "^Elections Chairs Call for Reform of Flawed Recall System^" (2021-09-15) and "^Lawmakers target reforms to California's recall process:: Leaders prepare to hold joint hearings to discuss changes to procedures^" (Gennady Sheyner, Palo Alto Online, 2021-09-15).

My hope is that nothing comes of this, because the only likely alternative is a "reform" that is worse than what we have. In case the hearings are not intended to only give the appearance of wanting to do something until interest fades, it's never too early to start chipping away at the "reformers" narrative.

The first clue is the use of "flawed" in the press release title and "broken system" in the second paragraph. Yet I don't see any mention of legitimate "flaws". This suggests that the "reforms" are driven by a different agenda.

The first argument (paragraph 2) is the presumption that, since the law is old, it is defective and unable to cope with "modern-day" situations ("age-ism").

Paragraph 4: On the need to "prevent political gamesmanship of the rules" but gives no examples. The only gamesmanship that I am aware of was by the Secretary of State -- a Democrat -- who established a very high standard for accepting signatures in contrast to a very loose -- almost non-existent -- standard for ballot signatures in the 2020 General Election. Result: 16-18% rejection rate for petition signatures, 0.1-0.2% for 2020 mail-in ballot signatures. In a generic election, the typical rejection rate is 1-5%.

Paragraph 5: "issues such as grounds for removal; ...". This would allow a legislative body or the courts to veto a recall as not meeting the grounds. Not that either of such groups would even think of being partisan ;-) Or they could render a "pocket veto" by delaying the decision until it was moot. In the two votes on impeachment of then-President Trump, numerous members of the House of Representatives made it clear that their votes weren't connected to the stated charges, but were purely political, that is, to their general feeling about Trump or to their political party loyalty. Why should California voters have less ability to remove an officeholder??

Paragraph 6: Berman quotes himself saying "... yesterday’s election highlighted the fundamentally undemocratic nature of California's existing recall process, ...". The voters decided that Newsom should not be recalled and that was the result. If you didn't know that Berman was a Democrat, you might conclude that despite the vote, Berman believes Newsom should have been recalled.
Usage note on "undemocratic": I am well-aware that, within the Democratic Party context, this is commonly used to mean "against the interests of the Democratic Party", far removed from its conventional meaning of being against democratic ideals and practice. So, yes, an election that the Democratic Party opposes can be "undemocratic" in their eyes.
However, I refuse to accede to this rhetorical tactic or let it go un-noted.

Paragraph 6 (more): "California law should not allow someone else to be recalled and replaced by a candidate who receives far fewer votes." This is disingenuous. In the recall election, there are two separate but related elections on the same ballot and they are treated as sequential elections. First a reality check: There have been two recall elections for the governor. In the first (^2003^), Gray Davis ("No" on recall) received 4.0M votes (44.6%) after having received 3.5M votes (47.3%) in the 2002 General Election. Arnold Schwarzenegger received 4.2M (48.6%) and replaced him. In the recent one, Gavin Newsom received the most votes and stayed in office. His high margin of victory resulted from vigorous campaigning in the last weeks: In mid-summer, multiple polls reported the election as virtually a toss-up.

One way to think about this is to pick hypothetical extreme cases. I use the "^Grand Poobah^" as an easy reference to a generic officeholder.
Case 1: The Grand Poobah was elected with 51% of the vote, but in the recall, he received 0% (= "Yes to recall" received 100%) with the winner of the election to replace him receiving 40% of those votes -- remember votes are split between many candidates. Assume that 9.3M votes were cast (same as the 2021 recall). That 11% difference is 1.0M votes. Would you call this "far few votes". Under this "reform", the Grand Poobah -- with no current public support -- would remain in office.
Case 2: The Grand Poobah was elected in a low turnout election, receiving 3M votes representing 51% of votes cast. The recall election has a heavy turnout of 9M votes, with only 2.5M voting to retain him (28%). The winning candidate to replace him receives 2.9M votes (32%). So what is the comparison? Number of votes or percentages? Votes for Grand Poobah in the previous General Election or the "No on recall" votes as a proxy in the recall election??
Recognize that the elections for some officials is not between the top-2 primary candidates, but can have many candidates with the winner(s) often receiving pluralities, not majorities.
Case 3: Let's extend the "principle" to the General Election. The Grand Poobah wins office 5.4M of 9M votes (60%). However, he loses his bid for re-election, getting 4.3M votes (48%), with his challenger receiving 4.7M votes (52%). A principle of not replacing an officeholder with someone who received far fewer votes compared to the officeholder's previous election voting results would mean that the Grand Poobah would retain his office despite not being re-elected.

Paragraph 9: Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon is quoted as saying "We came far too close to having a Governor elected by a tiny fraction of eligible voters." The top vote-getter among those hoping to replace Newsom was Larry Elder and he received 47% of the votes cast (incomplete count). In what world is that 47% "a tiny fraction"??
Note: Rendon used the highly inflated "eligible voters" instead of actual voters. The term "eligible voters" is ambiguous between being registered voters and being registered voters plus people who are qualified to register to vote. California does not know how many "registered voters" there are because the voter rolls are poorly maintained. A private company that provides clean-up voter rolls to pollsters and others reportedly flagged 3M California voter registrations as no longer being at the registered address (with high probability).

Paragraph 10: Non-quote: "Each of California’s last nine Governors has faced multiple recall attempts, though only two of those attempts have qualified for the ballot." Gee. That doesn't sound like a process that is easily manipulated by nefarious groups. The petition to put the recall election on the ballot required 1.5M signatures, computed as 12% of the votes cast in the previous election for that office. That corresponds to over 16% of the votes cast in the recall.

Paragraph 10: Non-quote: "More than 70% of the attempts to recall elected state officials that have qualified for the ballot, including the only two statewide recall elections in California history, have occurred in the last 27 years."
The choice of "27 years" is a red flag for cherry-picking. The period covers the rise of the Internet, and an alternative hypothesis would be that technology was making it somewhat easier to organize against the incumbent/established parties.

There's a bit more in the ^Palo Alto Online^ article from the press conference (via Zoom conference call).
Paragraph 3: "Berman said his biggest issue with the current system is the relatively low threshold for ousting and replacing an incumbent governor." (emphasis added). When I look at the numbers, I don't see how Berman could claim this other than mouthing the party line regardless of the actual data.

The 2003 Recall Election Redux: What surprised me was that the Democrats' campaign to delegitimize the recall election repeated many of the talking points from the 2003 Recall (Gray Davis). What didn't surprise me was that the Republican Party hadn't gotten around to having good responses, or at least none that I saw.

Conclusion: I would guess that 80-90% of my newsfeed are articles about politicians and other partisans trash-talking each other, with maybe 50% including the trash-talking in the headline. This seems to have increased in recent months.
I have a forlorn hope that the public would openly react negatively to absurd claims and other nonsense by politicians and other partisans, leading to a change in the media, probably by the legacy media dying out and being replaced. What I wrote about here should have been an article by a major media company that got republished by other media outlets -- reporters have been largely replaced by "repeaters" (I don't know the origin of this).

An ^abbreviated index by topic and chronologically^ is available.

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What is it worth to you?


Posted by Mondoman, a resident of Green Acres,
on Sep 16, 2021 at 6:28 am

Mondoman is a registered user.

For those who complain about the 2nd (replacement) part of a recall election potentially resulting in a winner with only a plurality rather than a majority of the votes cast, there's an easy (and fashionable!) solution: ranked choice voting.
The lack of chatter about this indicates to me that most are not serious about "reforming" the recall process -- they just want to bury this bit of inconvenient democracy.

Posted by III, a resident of Midtown,
on Sep 16, 2021 at 9:09 am

III is a registered user.

[[Deleted: It was off-topic plus being a partisan rant/trash talk.
Readers: By deleting such comments, I hope to discourage such comments from being posted here. Or at least not encourage more of them. Deletion is the only realistic choice I know of to accomplish this.
At many websites, the comment sections became useless when they were overwhelmed by people "shouting" at each other and adding nothing to the conversation.

Posted by Mirriam LaPorte, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Sep 16, 2021 at 1:01 pm

Mirriam LaPorte is a registered user.

An estimated $300M of CA taxpayer resources for a recall that was a foregone conclusion?

To be followed by another costly 2022 CA gubanitorial election?

And add to that the another $11-$31B for fraudulent EDD claims during the pandemic?

The State of CA is obviously not hurting for long as they have taxpayers to foot the bill.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Sep 16, 2021 at 1:27 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Mirriam LaPorte "recall that was a foregone conclusion"

No, it wasn't. During the summer, multiple polling companies had for-against effectively tied. The massive amount that Newsom raised for an advertising blitz indicates that he and the Democrats were seriously worried that the recall would succeed. Similarly for the many national prominent Democrats who came here to promote his cause.

Posted by Neal, a resident of Community Center,
on Sep 17, 2021 at 6:47 am

Neal is a registered user.

I have two simple thoughts regarding this article.
1. The recall system needs to be changed.
2. Assemblyman Berman needs to be recalled.

Posted by Anna Delacroix, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Sep 17, 2021 at 8:53 am

Anna Delacroix is a registered user.

Mr. your opinion, which one of the Republican candidates had the best chance of supplanting Governor Newsome?

Posted by Rainer, a resident of Mayfield,
on Sep 18, 2021 at 12:08 am

Rainer is a registered user.

There is only oen constructive comment: using ranked choice for selecting the new Governor. But is makes still a very bad system, by not giving us citizens the opportunity to vote directly about a specific person, after having blown off our anger about, lets say, wildfires, for which Newsom clearly seems to be responsible in the opinion of angry people.

Yea, it cost money, but that is just a pretense I believe.

Being German I have a better solution: the constructive vote of no-confidence, one of the many excellent features of the German Constitution, which made William Rehnquist say at a celebration of the 45th Anniversary of it: we Americans should carefully look at other Constitutions and see what they have come up with.

Rehnquist also probably would have approved of Artikel 44 of the German Grundgesetz. Why don't you google this. and tell your member of Congress to try to institute a ceoss-Party agreement along htis lines..

The German Chancellor (unlike Italian, or French, or...) Premiers, can only be voted out of Office, by electing another person to this office, with 50%+1 members of the Parliament. It only has been tried once, 1972, when the CDU/CSU bribed enough members of the FDP to try to elect Rainer Barzel Chancellor. But in this secret election 3 members of the CDU did vote for Willy Brandt.

This constructive vote of no-confidence has prevented the sad spectacle of having had 69 premiers in Italy since 1945! 13 months average.

So if you want to keep the recall possibility at all, I propose to leave the present 2 vote system, but with the change that the top vote getter in the second vote then has the chance to run against the Governor in a separate election.

Would you not have loved to see this election? I would!

Posted by Rainer, a resident of Mayfield,
on Sep 18, 2021 at 12:18 am

Rainer is a registered user.

Douglas, what can we do to get rid of Molly Stump as City lawyer? She seems to be only an advocate for herself, namely not agreeing to any legal procedure which she might loose, even when a win would be highly advantageous for Palo Alto.

I agree totally with your previous analysis that she case cost the city at least $100 Million. And in the case of the President Hotel scandal much more than just the pure money amount.

Come to think of the Hotel president: the City Planner also should be fired.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Sep 18, 2021 at 4:06 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

@Rainer on "get rid of Molly Stump".
There are only four City employees that the City Council officially and explicitly hires and fires. Called the "Council Appointed Officers" (CAOs), they are the City Attorney (Stump), the City Manager, the City Clerk, and the Auditor.

The City Council does annual performance reviews and I think the reviews are currently being done or have recently been completed.

It can be very difficult to get the Council to remove a CAO because some Councilmembers argue that that removal will be a big negative for potential applicants. Recognize that they are in the professional and social networks of the CAO being replaced, whereas the Councilmembers aren't.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Sep 18, 2021 at 4:26 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

@ Anna Delacroix

I am not aware of any Republican capable of winning the governorship or any other state-wide office, including US Senator. Republicans are about 25% of registered voters, and until they staged a registration drive during the 2020 campaign, there were fewer people registered as Republicans than as "independents" - technically No Party Preference (NPP). In state-wide races, the Republican candidate typically receives about 40% of the vote, rarely much more. For a Republican to have a chance of winning, there needs to be a very large protest vote against the Democrat.

The basic problem is that in the early 2000s, the California Republican Party decided to become a fringe party, purging, as RINOs (Republican In Name Only), those who had demonstrated ability to win state-wide elections, and with them went the policy positions and local party infrastructure needed to win state-wide.
This was part of the beginning and end of my 2017-07-16 blog "California Democrats seek to revive the Republican Party: Republicans expected to resist".

Are the governorship and state-wide elected offices entry-level positions?
Since Schwarzenegger, the Republicans haven't had an actual politician running for Governor:
• 2018: John Cox: businessman/real estate developer (Wikipedia: "perennial candidate")
• 2014: Neel Kashkari: An economist with government experience in the Treasury Department in Bush administration including responding to the 2008 crash. However, he had no electoral experience.
• 2010: Meg Whitman: previously CEO of eBay (being CEO of H-P came later).
• 2010 US Senate: Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of H-P. Her bizarre, infamous Demon Sheep Ad demonstrated her lack of electoral experience.

In the recall election, of the Republicans seeking to replace Newsom, the top vote-getter was Larry Elder at 47%. He had no electoral experience and entered the race at the last moment and with no preparation such as a campaign committee. Despite, or because of, having run for Governor in 2018, John Cox received only 4% -- yes, four percent. The second most vote-getting Republican -- at all of 8.5% -- was Kevin Faulconer. If you ask "Who?", that is illustrative of a Republican problem: lack of even basic name recognition throughout the state. Even though Faulconer had been the Mayor of San Diego, he got less than 1/3 of Elder's in that county and far less in the nearby counties. Some/most of this might be the result of Elder's frequent appearances on Fox News Channel and the virtual invisibility of the other Republican candidates.
Since so many Democrats didn't vote in that portion of the election, these results might be a very rough proxy for Republican and Republican-leaning voters.

In much of the most populated portions of California, the media is dominated by outlets that function as part of the Democratic Party's marketing operation, pushing out fake news and smears for which the Democratic Party candidates have "plausible deniability". For example, in the Recall election, the LATimes published an opinion piece entitled "Larry Elder is the Black face of white supremacy", seeding social media postings. For example, a White woman wearing a gorilla mask threw eggs at a Black candidate and then punched a member of the candidate's security team. You would expect this to be denounced in the media as racism. But it was largely ignored. Might it have been that the candidate was the Republican Larry Elder??

Although the media's open bias, if not outright partisanship, has existed for years, the Republican Party and its candidates largely do nothing more than the occasional complaint and then fail to follow-up. The Republican-leaning alternative media -- video and text -- seems dominated by those who are increasingly hostile to the dominant wing of the Republican Party (officeholders, professionals, ...). They characterize that wing as predominantly corporatist -- very similar to the Establishment wing of the Democratic party. The term "The Mitch McConnell wing (of the Republican Party)" seems to be gaining favor. Might this mean that those voters might stay home or vote for a different fringe party as a protest??

Posted by That User Name is already, a resident of another community,
on Sep 18, 2021 at 10:56 am

That User Name is already is a registered user.

"During the summer, multiple polling companies had for-against effectively tied."

Only those polls that used their Likely Voter screen.
Even those polls, when one looked at the crosstabs, showed Registered Voters were vastly against the recall. Newsom merely had to motivate the mainstream of California voters to achieve another landslide.

Newsom clobbered Cox a couple years ago: 62% - 38%

(today's update)
No - 63.5%
Yes - 36.5%

Posted by Anna Delacroix, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Sep 18, 2021 at 11:48 am

Anna Delacroix is a registered user.

Terrific follow-up Mr. Moran and your illustrations succinctly sum-up the state of the Republican Party in California today.

And so the question arises...what will
it take for them to recoup a viable voter base?

Bipartisanship appears to be a thing
of the past both statewide and nationally.

America (inclufing predominantly
'blue' California) is symbolic of the divisiveness media pundits enjoy to
sensationalized and exploit.

Is there no more middle ground or
any concept of practical realities remaining?

As a registered Independent since
1972, I have voted for both Republican & Democrat candidates in the past.

And while no elected candidate is an ideal type by any means of the word, the list of potential & future candidates running for public office
leaves something to be desired, even on a PACC or SC County Supervisor level.

Given your straightforward and uncomprising approach towards the contemporary & pertinent issues voters are now faced with, might you consider a run for PACC with other options (e.g. county supervisor, state assembly, congressperson etc.) presenting themselves later down the road?

Posted by Resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Sep 20, 2021 at 4:31 am

Resident is a registered user.

Welcome back Doug. I was worried about you. Good to see the sole voice of reason on this entire website is still allowed to write.
I have found the most effective solution is to cut off the mainstream media entirely. It cleanses the mind and its nice to go through the day without reading articles specifically designed to make your blood boil. The partisanship found in 90 percent of political articles bores me to death. Its just too predictable. For example, I completely stopped reading Fox News for several month. When I visited the site again, it struck me how pandering and worthless all of the links on the front page were. It is nothing but clickbait headlines and irrelevant stories.
The legacy media on both sides has severely degraded over the past few years. These days, all it takes to write an MSM article is linking embedded tweets about an irrelevant exchange between two has-been celebrities.

Posted by Native to the BAY, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Sep 20, 2021 at 11:00 am

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

A recall during a Global, National, State, local crisis as in natural, health, or war should never proceed unless there is gross misconduct personally and directly associated w the elected official. This is wrong and puts every single resident at risk with un-needed distraction, added stress and skews priorities and deepens neglect of COVID emergency. As well campaign finance reforms should level the field. The amount of donations received is not equal. Newsom's or a state declared emergency did not play well and was mute when it came to this foolish recall effort while people died and caught the virus. Absurdity of dunces.

Posted by Markie, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Sep 20, 2021 at 11:15 am

Markie is a registered user.

I am curious what happens if the Governor voluntarily resigns? Doesn't the Lt Governor just take over? I believe the Lt Governor is also a publicly elected official akin to the Governor.

Since it seems like a recall is basically a forced resignation, then perhaps there should not be any "second half" of the ballot to pick an immediate replacement. That would happen in the next standard election.

Just a thought towards simplification of the procedures.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Sep 26, 2021 at 2:52 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

I have locked the comment section because it is getting SPAMmed, and legit comments seem to have run their course.

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