California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday filed suit against California Secretary of State Shirley Weber in a bid to get his Democrat party affiliation included on the ballot for the state’s upcoming recall election after an error on the part of his staff led to its absence.
Newsom’s office received formal notification of the recall election on Feb. 28, 2020, and in replying to it, his staff failed to list him as a Democrat, according to the complaint (pdf), filed in Sacramento County Superior Court and first reported by Courthouse News.
California election law requires someone in Newsom’s position to indicate whether they want their party preference on the ballot when they file the answer to the recall notice of intent, which did not happen, “due to an inadvertent but good faith mistake on the part of his elections attorney,” the complaint states.
“Upon discovering the mistake,” Newsom’s attorney filed a notice on June 19, 2020, to have his party preference included on the ballot, asking Weber to accept it.
But Weber declined, the complaint states, prompting the lawsuit, which seeks to require all recall ballots to include beside Newsom’s name the words: “Party Preference: Democratic.”
Weber’s spokesperson, Joe Kocurek, told the Los Angeles Times in a statement that the Secretary of State is required to accept “timely filed documents” and that “acceptance of filings beyond a deadline requires judicial resolution.”
But Newsom’s complaint argues that the deadline set forth in the elections code is “arbitrary” and “serves no purpose related to the efficient administration of running the election.”
Weber must accept his notice of party preference “under the doctrine of substantial compliance,” the complaint argues, while pointing to a California Supreme Court ruling that, “‘an unreasonably literal or inflexible application of constitutional or statutory’ election procedural requirements that fails to take into account the purpose underlying the particular requirement at issue is inconsistent with the fundamental rights involved and should not be permitted.”
Newsom’s complaint also argues that including his party affiliation will help voters make an informed choice.
“The voters would be deprived of the very information the Legislature has deemed important for them to receive, all because the governor’s counsel inadvertently failed to file a form about the governor’s ballot designation at least 16 months before the recall election has been called,” the complaint states.
The effort to recall Newsom cleared its final hurdle on June 23 when Weber confirmed that enough signatures remained on the recall petition after voters had been given a chance to withdraw their support.
While no date for the election has been set, it could come as early as August or as late as November of this year.
The recall petition against Newsom is only the second to succeed against a governor in the state’s history. While every governor since 1960 has faced a formal recall petition, the only petition with enough signatures to trigger an election was the one against Gov. Gray Davis (D), who was, in the end, replaced by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
A year of whipsaw pandemic lockdowns, crushing job losses from business closures, California’s wallet-sapping taxes, and a raging homelessness crisis have focused the frustrations of Californians, with Newsom, given his role as governor, becoming the target of those resentments. Adding to that is intense criticism of Newsom for flouting his own pandemic lockdown rules by being spotted dining maskless, and an investigative report showing he misled the public about his wildfire prevention efforts.
Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.