A new projection by the state Department of Finance released on Thursday estimated that the 2021 California Governor recall election will cost the state at least $215 million this year, about half of previous estimates.
Following the 30-days to remove signatures from the recall petition, after the Secretary of State’s 10 days to determine if there are still enough signatures to move ahead with the recall election, the Department of Finance provides an estimate of the cost of the recall election to the Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State and Legislative Budget Committee.
County leaders, other lawmakers, and the Newsom administration were concerned about the election cost on the upcoming state budget due to the recall election occurring sometime later this year.
The Department of finance noted in their analysis that many costs would come at the local level, such as election preparation for polling places – something of which is now doubled because of the recall election unlikely being held on election day in November. According to the Department of Finance, the recall election would only cost Sierra County, with a population of only a little more than 3,000 people, $19,200. However, the largest county in terms of population, Los Angeles County, would see a cost of $49 million. Other counties would also see large costs, such as San Bernardino County with $32 million and Alameda County with $21 million.
“The total costs reported by all counties to conduct a special statewide recall election is $215 million,” explained Department of Finance Director Keely Martin Bosler on Thursday. “This estimate does not reflect the Secretary of State’s costs associated with a statewide recall election.”
State costs, which were not factored in the report, would be smaller but would likely include additional costs of sending out mail-in ballots. As of Thursday, Secretary of State Shirley Weber has not commented on how much the election would cost the state.
However, those costs may be significant. In the 2003 recall election, California spent an additional $24.5 million on sending out the voter information guide, staff support, and other costs. The large number of candidates in the election also significantly raised costs due to voters needed to receive information about each one of them. Counties also saw additional administrative costs that year, which the Secretary of State’s Office estimated at between $42 million and $55 million. 2003 recall costs also did not factor in the added cost in 2021 for mail-in ballots.
The initial $400 million estimate was significantly lowered by the Department of Finance largely due to the rollback of COVID-19 precautions, and the projected greater return to normalcy later this year.
A $215 million recall
The new estimate may also effect the date on which the recall is to be held. Democratic lawmakers noted that the estimate also now fills a state law that says that the Department of Finance has to fully assess the costs of a recall. Should it be accepted, Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis may move up the election date, potentially benefitting Newsom by giving candidates less time to make a case and for the Governor to hold onto post-pandemic goodwill that he has accumulated in recent months.
“By providing counties with the funding they need, we can waive the required period for the Joint Legislative Budget Committee to review the election costs,” said Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) in a joint statement on Thursday after the announcement of the analysis.
Recall proponents have disregarded the costs of the recall, especially with the lowered estimate given on Thursday, instead noting that Newsom is taxpayer money, such as through proposed $600 stimulus checks for most Californians, to help convince people for keeping him in office later this year.
“With the billions this governor is handing out in recall rebates and game-show antics, the cost of the election is a small investment in the future of the state,” said Orrin Heatlie, Lead Proponent of the Recall Gavin Newsom campaign and founder of the California Patriot Coalition on Thursday.
Experts also weighed in, noting that the new estimate could benefit both sides.
“Newsom might get a sooner recall date, but those who want him gone also get an unexpected benefit from this,” explained former lobbyist Harry Schultz to the Globe on Thursday. “They now have a price point. So even if Newsom wins this year, he will have to explain all cost overruns to the people next year, especially with a large surplus possibly not covering it due to his spending now planned to the penny, at least how it is proposed now.”
“Newsom’s political future is already tarnished, so even surviving a recall makes him a weak candidate in 2022, not to mention ruining any hope he has for a higher office or appointment in the future, especially on the national stage. Recall overrunning costs in his own recall would just be more ammunition against him in the future.”
“This has been said before, but even if he wins he loses.”
The date of the 2021 recall election is expected to be announced sometime in the coming months.