LA Times: Our recall system needs to be fixed so Republicans can't win

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

As we already learned, Californians decided in a fairly convincing fashion to stick with the corrupt, incompetent leadership they have now rather than taking a chance on what was behind curtain number two. But even with the failure of the recall referendum, the conversation over the future of the entire system isn’t ending. The liberal residents of the Golden State have been through this circus twice in recent memory. The last time they wound up with a Republican Governor (or at least a guy who registered as a Republican to run, anyway). And this week they came uncomfortably close to seeing it happen again, and they would have been saddled with a real conservative this time. According to the Los Angeles Times, this has a majority of the state’s residents pondering some changes to the system. They don’t want to give up the power to recall a governor if they wish. But almost all of the Democrats would like to see some changes that wouldn’t allow a Republican to slip through and into the Governor’s mansion.

New results released Monday from the [UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies’] poll, co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, show 75% of registered voters want to keep their right to remove a statewide official through a recall election. Strong majorities of almost every voter subgroup agreed in the survey conducted during the first week of September. Support for keeping recalls as an option was nearly unanimous among Republicans.

But the poll of almost 10,000 registered voters also sampled opinions on five ideas for revamping the rules governing statewide recall elections, a tool of California’s vaunted direct democracy system that has hardly been changed since its creation in 1911.

Among the five proposed changes, the broadest support was for holding a runoff election when a recall succeeds but no replacement candidate wins a majority of votes.

The most popular change to the system, as noted above, is one that would only allow a new governor to be installed simultaneously with a successful recall vote if they won a majority of the votes. Both Schwarzenegger and Larry Elder came through with plurality leads, not majorities, though the Governator’s showing was much stronger at 48.6%. Clearly, California’s liberals don’t want to risk having that happen again.

The proposed change would force a runoff election after the recall passes. That would give the Democrats time to narrow down the field and find a consensus candidate who would still easily defeat the Republican challenger in most imaginable scenarios. There was a significant partisan divide on the question, with Democrats being more than 20% more likely than Republicans to support the runoff plan. That makes sense since the GOP is most likely to lose in that scenario.

Another popular proposal would limit recall elections to only elected officials who were found to have engaged in “illegal or unethical” conduct. I suppose that sounds good at first glance, but defining what qualifies as “unethical” conduct in this day and age could be tricky. Also, how “illegal” would the conduct have to be? Would a parking ticket make the Governor a possible target for a recall for the rest of their term?

There was weaker support, though still a majority, for a constitutional amendment to make it harder to start a recall. The proposal would require recall proponents to gather a number of signatures equal to at least 25% of the votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election. Less popular was a proposal to require the current governor’s name to appear with the list of replacement candidates.

One idea that wasn’t on the list but has been discussed in the past seems like a far more obvious solution. Why not do away with the replacement election entirely and just have the Lieutenant Governor take over for the rest of the term if the Governor is removed? Isn’t that why states bother having lieutenant governors to begin with? In any event, it seems that the minds of California’s Democrat voters are made up. They want the option to give the boot to a sub-par governor. They just don’t want to be stuck with a Republican as a replacement. And a majority of them appear to be ready to rewrite the rules to make sure that doesn’t happen again.