Governor Gavin Newsom filed a lawsuit against California Secretary of State Shirley Weber Monday asking the court to require the Secretary of State print Newsom’s political party on the recall ballots, after neglecting to file the proper party notice 16 months ago.
Lawmakers who are the subject of a recall have the option to file a notice of party preference after the recall notice is first submitted, which for Newsom would have been 16 months ago in February 2020. However, he didn’t file a notice with the Secretary of State’s office until June 19, 2021, well over a year past the deadline. Newsom’s team asked for the party to be listed on the ballot due to it being a “good faith mistake,” but Secretary Weber stuck with the law.
The law itself, formulated from Senate Bill 151, was actually signed into law by Newsom in 2019. Before SB 151, lawmakers who were the subject of a recall did not have the option to have a party preference added to the ballot, such as then-Governor Gray Davis during the 2003 recall election. Senator Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana) saw this as a problem, as it was seen as a way to make voters less informed when voting.
“Unlike the elected official being recalled, candidates seeking to succeed the elected official in a recall election are able to have a ballot designation,” said Umberg in 2019. “By providing additional identifying information on the ballot, voters are able to make a more informed choice when deciding to retain or remove an individual from office.”
The bill was unanimously passed, but had rarely come into action in the past few years due to many lawmakers opting not to invoke it because they thought that enough signatures would not be gathered against them.
“Newsom was riding high in February 2020,” explained former lobbyist Harry Schultz to the Globe on Tuesday. “He didn’t respond to it on previous recall attempts, so why should he do it then? But what he wasn’t counting on was the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy nosediving. Mixed in with errors he made and several other factors, enough signatures were gathered and suddenly he found himself actually in a recall election.”
“This wasn’t an oversight. He actually didn’t think that a recall election would ever actually happen, But a year later, boom. He’s fighting for his political career.”
A Filing late by 16 months spurs a lawsuit
Despite the recall being all but a sure thing earlier this year, Newsom’s team still didn’t attempt to file until earlier this month. Weber, who was chosen by Newsom in December as the next Secretary of State following the departure of Alex Padilla becoming a Senator to fill out Vice President Kamala Harris’ Senate term following the 2020 election, rejected the late request simply because it was well beyond the seven day window of the law.
With no other option, Newsom’ legal team filed Newsom v. Weber on Monday. While the Governor does acknowledge missing the deadline in the lawsuit, he also argues that during the time to file for a party preference a recall petition succeeding was seen as highly unlikely.
“Weber, however, declined to accept the notice, necessitating this action,” notes the lawsuit. “To apply that deadline here would also lead to absurd results. 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 sixteen months before the recall election has been called and long before it became clear that the recall would even qualify for the ballot.”
Newsom’s legal team also argued that there is still plenty of time to add the Governor’s party preference to the ballot, as ballots have yet to be printed and an election date has not yet been announced.
“The inclusion of his political party will ensure that voters are able to make a more informed choice when deciding how to vote in the upcoming recall election,” the lawsuit said. “[This suit aims] to require all recall ballots to include either next to or below Newsom’s name his party preference as follows: ‘Party Preference: Democratic.'”
However, Secretary Weber, herself a Democrat, stuck to her guns saying simply that she followed the law to the letter and was not bending it even for someone as powerful as the Governor.
“The Secretary of State’s office has a ministerial duty to accept timely filed documents,” explained Weber’s office in a Tuesday statement. “Acceptance of filings beyond a deadline requires judicial resolution.”
Weber’s fortitude was praised by Republicans and Democrats alike on Monday and Tuesday, despite the law hurting the Democratic Newsom.
“I’d be saying the same thing if it was happening to a Republican,” added Schultz. “Refusing to back down and sticking with the law when the Governor, the same person who gave you the position, is breathing down your neck, is admirable. We’ll see how this plays out in Sacramento County Superior Court, but it is refreshing to see someone unwilling to bend on the law for something this high up.”
All recall candidates have until 59 days of the election to name their party preference. Newsom v. Weber is expected to be heard in Superior Court soon.