Despite critical risk warnings from security experts, today is Election Day for the California Gubernatorial Recall of Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, whose future may be determined by his handling of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For almost two years, the virus has taken center stage in the Golden State while critical issues like homelessness, the economy, and crime surge unchecked.
Indeed, as pandemic restrictions crippled the already fractured state, the grassroots, bipartisan campaign 'Recall Gavin Newsom' gained momentum, officially reaching the threshold of 1.5 million signatures earlier this year. Meanwhile, Newsom and his national-level Democratic political allies fought back, organizing "Stop the Republican Recall" in opposition to the effort against the governor. The group—with supporters like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Alex Padilla, Sen. Cory Booker, Rep. Katie Porter, and Stacey Abrams—argue the recall movement is:
"Powered by a partisan, Republican coalition of national Republicans, anti-vaxxers, QAnon conspiracy theorists, anti-immigrant activists, and Trump supporters."
President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have both visited California to campaign for Newsom. Harris' notable absence from Washington during a time of international crisis due to Biden's controversial withdrawal from Afghanistan has drawn criticism from many as she resurfaced to campaign for Newsom. Monday night, at a Long Beach, CA rally for Newsom, Biden appealed to the crowd, declaring:
“The eyes of the nation are on California because the decision you’re going to make isn’t just going to have a huge impact on California, it’s going to reverberate around the nation, and quite frankly, not a joke, around the world.”
"Voting no will be protecting California from Trump Republicans trying to block us from defeating this pandemic. You either keep Gavin Newsom as your governor, or you'll get Donald Trump."
With election integrity on the minds of the majority of Americans, many California residents have already voted using the state's Vote-by-Mail system. As reported by the BradBlog, Monday would have been the final day for Dr. Shirley Weber, California Secretary of State (SoS), to mandate a statewide post-election Risk-Limiting Audit (RLA) to protect the state's ongoing Gubernatorial recall election following a voting system software leak. In an urgent and frank letter seeking emergency action, eight of the nation's top cybersecurity and voting systems experts warned Weber that the recent leak of critical voting system software—used in nearly 60% of state jurisdictions during the recall—"materially elevates threats to the trustworthiness of the ongoing California recall election and to public trust in the election."
Weber declined to take action. Instead, after meeting last week with the security experts who issued the urgent warning, SoS Weber responded to them with a letter endorsing California's election security process while dismissing their concerns. The SoS noted the AP's coverage of the security warning was "inaccurate," stating there was no time to demand such an audit because it would require "significant preparation, training, and testing." Weber wrote to the experts, which include Harri Hursti and Prof. Philip Stark:
"Your request to mandate all California counties to implement RLA, almost all of them would be doing so for the first time, less than two weeks ahead of a statewide Gubernatorial Recall Election is not possible."
Significant recall election concerns have already been reported in Los Angeles County. Its new electronic poll book system incorrectly alerted both Republican and Democratic voters that they had already cast their ballot when they had not. The voters were instead given provisional ballots. The incident occurred in at least two locations, and according to the L.A. County Registrar's office, the machines have been removed from operation. Recall organizer Orrin Heatlie, a retired Yolo County sheriff's deputy, is monitoring all aspects of the election and said he is prepared to file lawsuits if his team finds fraud. Of particular concern is a new online ballot printing option.
The front-runners among the candidates challenging Newsom are all Republicans. They include syndicated radio host Larry Elder, Olympic champion-turned-reality television star Caitlyn Jenner, California Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, businessman John Cox, and former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. Elder holds a considerable lead over the list of 46 candidates.
Poll leader Elder, who had repeatedly declared, "We have a state to save," has said common sense is the way to defeat Newsom. Elder has been the target of offensive insults and attacks that the other recall candidates have not endured. The recent incident of a gorilla-masked white woman has drawn the most news coverage; still, Elder has experienced racist and biased advances for weeks. Taking the attacks and criticism in stride, Elder is convinced Newsom is harming California, commenting in an interview with Christopher Tremoglie of the Washington Examiner:
“While I’m pleased with the positive poll numbers, I’m singularly focused on continuing to get my message out to the millions of Californians who have been hurt by Gavin Newsom’s failed policies. I’m happy to hear that my ideas on fixing homelessness, failing schools, and the high cost of living, among others, are being well received by my fellow Californians.”
“Do you feel safe in your own neighborhood? Do you like the high tax and gas prices? Does it bother you that while your kids are forced to stay at home and learn virtually, your governor’s children are able to attend school in person? If you’re troubled by any of these issues, or the numerous other problems facing California today, vote 'yes' to recall Newsom.”
“Unlike Gavin Newsom, I will abide by the rules my administration puts forth, not flaunt them. I will treat the everyday, ordinary Californian the same way I will treat the Sacramento elite and special interest groups. I understand the gravity of the issues that face California, and I will work every day that I’m in office to solve them.”
Speaking of vaccines, Elder reveals he has gotten the jab because of his age and an "underlying co-morbidity." He recently told reporters in Los Angeles that people should accept and respect their California neighbors who choose not to get vaccinated.
Newsom, who is vaccinated, has been aggressive in promoting the COVID-19 vaccine, including ordering mandatory vaccination for health care workers and requiring that other state workers either get the vaccination or submit to regular testing. Newsom has also ordered mandatory vaccination or testing for California teachers. On the other hand, when pressed on whether he, as governor, would punish businesses that have mask or vaccine mandates, Elder has stated, "What I'm opposed to are vaccine mandates and face mask mandates," adding:
"I do believe that virtually everybody in California who wants to be vaccinated has been able to be vaccinated. If you're poor, you can get vaccinated for free. A lot of people have made a very different decision. And I think we ought to respect that decision."
Polls in California close at 8 p.m. local time. Election results can be found here.