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Recall Election Costly To California Taxpayers

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to volunteers in San Francisco, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.
AP Photo / Jeff Chiu
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to volunteers in San Francisco, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.

This recall election is a reminder of just how costly it is to stage statewide elections.

The final estimate came in July from California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, putting the cost of this one at $276 million, with more than $243 million borne by the counties and the remaining $32-plus million from the state.

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But Weber said when all is said and done, this recall election will likely cost taxpayers upwards of $300-million.

Mesa College Professor of Political Science Carl Luna said the state’s recall election law dates back to 1911, meant to keep powerful interest groups like railroads from picking the governor and legislature.

“This gave citizens a chance to replace people who they thought were being more responsive to special interests than to the public at large. So, it was supposed to be a reform to help the public,” Luna said.

The law requires signatures from 12% of the voter turnout in the last election for governor. In this case that worked out to nearly one and a half million people.

But Luna told KPBS that powerful, wealthy people have figured out ways to work the system.


“Remember all those people that are out in front of the Trader Joe’s signing people up for these initiatives are being paid to be there. The more money I have, the easier it is to qualify something for the ballot," he said.

RELATED: Dire Warning From Newsom Helped Turn California Recall Tide

Recall Election Costly To California Taxpayers

A couple of reforms are making their way around the halls of the legislature. Democratic State Senator Josh Newman of Fullerton has proposed numerous changes including banning paying signature collectors and upping the threshold to qualify for a recall election.

But Luna is skeptical of those proposals going anywhere.

“Everybody’s upset about it and the next thing you know, we’re thinking about Thanksgiving and Christmas and then it’s going to be the primaries. And by the time you get back to thinking about it, it’ll be the next event, the next recall," Luna said.

Or, the next election which is a little more than a year away, when Gavin Newsom will run once again to keep his job.

The 2024 primary election is March 5. Find in-depth reporting on each race to help you understand what's on your ballot.