California 2021 Gubernatorial Recall Election: An Explainer

Rock the Vote
4 min readSep 8, 2021

Gavin Newsom, the Governor of California, is facing a recall election on Tuesday, September 14, 2021. Voting has already begun.

What is a recall election?

A recall is a way for the public to attempt to remove an elected public official from office before the end of their term. In this case, a group of California residents are attempting to recall Governor Gavin Newsom.

How does a recall election work in California?

Before a recall election can take place, a petition to recall the elected official must be signed by a specific number of voters. In California, the petition must be signed by the equivalent of 12% of all votes cast for the office in the last election. Since more than 12 million voters voted in the 2018 Gubernatorial election that Newsom won, the petition to recall him required at least 1,495,709 signatures. A recall petition can be started by any eligible voter, for basically any reason.

How does the signature collection process work?

California petitioners usually have only 160 days to collect signatures, but because of Covid-19, the circulation time for this petition was extended by four months, approximately 120 days. By April 2021, the required number of signatures was reached. The California Secretary of State certified the recall, and Lieutenant Governor, Eleni Kounalakis set September 14th, 2021 as the date of the recall election.

What does a Governor do?

A Governor is the top executive officer of a state. The Governor of California is to California as the President is to the United States. Governors have a lot of power over the direction of the state and how policies are implemented. They issue executive orders, develop the state budget, and appoint heads of departments and agencies.

Mirroring the President at the national level, the governor also has legislative and judicial duties at the state level, such as proposing a budget, approving or vetoing state laws, and appointing judges to vacancies in district, appellate, and state supreme courts.

What will be on the ballot?

The recall ballot will look slightly different from a standard ballot. It will have two questions. The first will ask, “Shall Gavin Newsom be recalled (removed) from the office of Governor?” with the choice of “yes” or “no.”

The second question will list possible candidates to succeed Gavin Newsom as Governor if he is successfully recalled.

IMPORTANT: No matter what your answer to the first question is, you can and should vote for a replacement candidate in the event that Newsom is successfully recalled.

What would happen if Newsom is not recalled?

If more than 50% of responding voters vote “no” on the recall, then Governor Gavin Newsom will remain in office for the remainder of his term which ends on January 2nd, 2023.

What would happen if Newsom is recalled?

If more than 50% of responding voters vote “yes” on the recall, then Governor Gavin Newsom will be replaced by the candidate with the most votes in question 2. They do not need to win a majority of votes to become governor, only a plurality. This means that a candidate could be elected after only a minority of voters cast a vote for them.

The replacement candidate with the most votes would be elected as Governor, and will take the oath of office on the 38th day after the election — which is October 22nd, 2021. They will then be Governor for the remainder of the term, which lasts until January 2nd, 2023.

Has a gubernatorial recall election ever happened before?

Yes. In 2003, then-Governor Gray Davis faced a successful recall election. He was replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who won 48.6% of the vote.

Who is eligible to vote in the runoff?

Every registered voter in California will automatically receive a ballot in the mail. Ballots were mailed out on August 16th.

When is the deadline to register to vote before the recall election?

The deadline to register to vote was August 30th, but if you missed that deadline, you can register and vote in person until the polls close at 8pm on September 14th.

Do I have flexible voting options?

Yes, you may vote using the ballot that was mailed to you, or vote in person early or on Election Day.

What do I need to know about using a vote-at-home/vote-by-mail/absentee ballot?

Ballots were automatically mailed out on August 16th to all registered California voters. Completed ballots should be dropped off at an official drop box by 8pm on September 14th or mailed in before September 14th.

As long as your mail-in ballot is postmarked on or before September 14th and arrives no later than September 21st, it will be counted.

Can I track my ballot after I drop it off or mail it?

Yes! To track your ballot, go to

Can I vote in person?

You can also vote in-person at your designated polling place or a vote center near you, depending on your county. To find out where and when you can vote in person, head to, or for early voting.