A bill to require the State of California to provide an elected official who is the subject of a recall election the names and addresses of every voter who signed the petition faces a crucial committee vote this week.
Senate Bill 663, authored by Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), would allow elected officials who have been the subject of a recall election, except in cases when the total number of voters in the recall is less than 50,000, to receive the names and addresses of every person who signed a recall petition against them and would allow the official to contact all of them to “make sure that they “understood the recall petition they may have signed”, and to assist registered voters to withdraw their signatures on the recall petition. The petition copy with the names and addresses would also, by law, be destroyed within 15 days of the recall qualification date. SB 663 would also redact some information, such as signatures, from signed recall petitions when given to the recalled official.
The bill also highlights how it would be illegal for targeted officials to release or unveil any of the names or addresses on the petition, would outline new standards for how a petition could be formatted, and would extend the period of time for voters to withdraw their name and signature from a recall petition.
Senator Newman wrote and introduced the bill in February as a way for those who have been targeted for recall a new way to challenge the recall, primarily by reaching directly out to those that voted against them and to make sue that they knew what they were signing when they signed the petition.
“Most elected people don’t think much about the prospect of being recalled,” said Senator Newman about SB 663 recently. “Every time another one happens, there’s general agreement, ‘That’s not what people had in mind when they created this process.’ But once it’s over, we move on. I think it’s appropriate that we revisit these institutions and make sure they are still working the way they were originally intended.”
Senator Newman was ousted in a recall election in 2018 over his support of SB 1, a bill that drastically increased gas taxes and DMV costs across the state, by 58%.
Former Republican Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang won the seat during a special election to replace Newman as he lost the recall election, breaking up the Democratic supermajority in the State Senate. However, Newman quickly built up support for a 2020 run, even dedicating an entire section of his election website to the gas tax recall and focusing to ease tax burdens of Californians. It proved to be effective, as he managed to take back his Senate seat in 2020, narrowly defeating Chang in a 51%-49% decision.
However, Newman charges that recall reform is needed, as recall petitions against him only said it was a petition against a higher gas tax didn’t mention it actually being a recall petition.
“It said ‘Are you mad about this gas tax? Sign this petition.’ They didn’t tell them that the actual text of the petition was about recalling an elected state senator,” added Newman. “From my view a recall is, in effect, trial by ballot. And you should be able to face your accusers.”
The Senator wanted to reach out to those that signed to make sure that they knew what they signed for, but couldn’t due to current law. This led to SB 663 being introduced this year.
Opposition quickly mounts against SB 663
Since being introduced, many have come out in opposition to SB 663. Despite many privacy and security steps outlined in SB 663, many have charged that it’s not enough in terms of security and removes voter privacy protections by having their names and addresses seen by the person who was recalled. This has led many to be further concerned about possible retaliatory measures waged against them by the official for signing it and about possible voter intimidation, as well as it being self-serving for Newman.
“The secret ballot is essential to democracy and it protects against voter intimidation,” said Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) last week.
Many also noted the timing of the bill, as it is about to go before a Senate committee just as signatures in the Governor Gavin Newsom recall petition are being verified by the Secretary of State, with the total verified count expected to exceed the 1.5 million needed to trigger a recall election by the end of the month.
“The timing of this is extremely odd,” noted election consultant Terry Shepherd to the Globe on Monday. “Newman has said that even if this bill is passed this year that it won’t even go into effect until next year, thus missing the Newsom recall. But that still leaves that question in the heads of voters. ‘Oh, I signed the petition against him. What if he decides to get my info? What can he do with it?'”
“Voter privacy in recall petitions is at stake during a time when the largest recall election in 18 years is about to take place.”
“And voters will be wondering what they’ll be doing with their names and addresses. That is a scary proposition. The bill tries to limit what they can do and for how long they have access to that information, but you can make copies of those petitions, make a dot map of where everywhere in the area these people signed your petition and use that to focus where to campaign more in the future, or even worse, choose areas you may not want to push more public funding into or other extreme measures. The capacity for retaliation is pretty large here, no matter how many protections they wrote in the bill. It’s hard to convince people otherwise, especially in an era when many security conscious organizations like Equifax have giant data leaks.”
SB 663 was heard in the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments committee Monday and passed. Assemblyman Kevin Kiley weighed in: “A bill to expose the name and address of everyone who signs a Recall petition just passed the Senate Elections Committee. California’s counter-Enlightenment marches on.”
A bill to expose the name and address of everyone who signs a Recall petition just passed the Senate Elections Committee. California's counter-Enlightenment marches on.
— Kevin Kiley (@KevinKileyCA) April 12, 2021