Newsom Loses Court Hearing, Will Not Have Party Preference On Recall Ballot

Jul 12, 2021

In this Jan. 8, 2021, file photo, California Gov. Gavin Newsom gestures during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif.
Credit Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo

Gov. Gavin Newsom will not be listed as a Democrat on the ballot when California voters decide whether to recall him.

Newsom missed the deadline by more than a year to state his party preference on the ballot. His elections lawyer noticed the mistake last month and asked the Secretary of State Shirley Weber to allow a fix, but she declined.

The governor took the issue to court; his team argued it was an honest mistake and that voters would be served by having more information available on the ballot.

But Sacramento Superior Court Judge James Arguelles wasn’t convinced.

The law “unambiguously precludes party information from appearing on a recall ballot where the elected officer fails timely to make the designation,” Arguelles wrote in his decision denying Newsom’s request to have his party listed on the recall ballot.

The issue stems from a recent change in election law to allow an elected official facing a recall to have their party affiliation listed on the recall ballot. Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 151 in September 2019. Newsom signed it a month later. 

According to the law, the official facing a recall can state their party preference when they file initial paperwork responding to a recall attempt. For the recall going before voters September 14, that deadline was in February of 2020 — just two months after the law took effect.

“It is clear from both the text and the legislative history that SB 151 does not consider information about an elected officer's party affiliation so vital to voters that it must be included on the ballot,” Arguelles wrote.

In a statement, Newsom’s campaign spokesman Nathan Click brushed off the legal defeat. “Californians see this partisan recall for what it is — a Republican power grab, and across the state you see Democrats united behind Governor Newsom,” he wrote. “Governor Newsom will defeat this Republican recall.”

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said while the entire ordeal is “an embarrassing flub” for Newsom, the ruling may not have a huge impact on voters.

“In the Venn diagram of people who are going to be voting in the recall and people who know Newsom is a Democrat — that diagram is nearly a circle,” she said.