CVF-News Roundup: Looming recall, supporting election officials

March 19, 2021

Hi Folks,

It has been a quite a year so far. Insurrectionists attempted to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election results. This unprecedented attack on the U.S. election process was not successful, and Joe Biden was inaugurated as the new President while California's former U.S. Senator Kamala Harris was sworn in as the new Vice President.

Gov. Gavin Newsom filled this vacancy by appointing California's former Secretary of State, Alex Padilla, to serve as California's U.S. Senator and Dr. Shirley Weber to serve as California's new Secretary of State. Secretary Weber, who previously served in the State Legislature representing San Diego, was sworn in on Jan. 29th and is California's first Black Secretary of State. 

The dust has barely settled on the last election and now an effort to ask Californians if they want to recall Gov. Newsom appears to be likely to qualify for the ballot, which would result in a special election later this year, likely in late November or early December. The recall process requires California's 58 county election officials to verify an estimated 2.1 million petition signatures submitted by proponents and that work is underway now. This week, ABC TV in Sacramento featured a story for which I was interviewed, about one feature of our recall process which allows voters to withdraw their petition signature by contacting their county election office.

County election offices are also in the midst of verifying millions of signatures for two initiatives attempting to qualify for the ballot. It is a huge amount of work and none of it is reimbursed by the state even though these are statewide election activities.

Many election officials are still recovering from the last election. Over the past few months the California Voter Foundation has been working with a UC Berkeley graduate student, Grace Gordon, on a research project to document and address the harassment of election officials resulting from the 2020 election.

As many of you know, election officials across the country have been subjected to attacks and threats, many inspired by the previous administration's "Big Lie" falsely claiming the election was stolen, and other disinformation on social media.

A number of election officials in California and around the nation have recently left their jobs and we are at risk of losing more if we do not do a better job of supporting them. I have seen election officials break down in tears talking about what they have experienced. Whatever we do to fix our election process, it has to start with supporting the people who run it.

Some things we can do to support our election officials include: providing sufficient and ongoing funding for their operations; establishing new legal protections; funding nonprofits to assist with voter outreach and education; creating academic programs to place adjunct staff in election offices; creating a cross-sector network of election administration stakeholders to support each other; and addressing and curtailing disinformation, in part by empowering election officials to more easily and frequently disseminate reliable information to the public on social and traditional media platforms.

Fortunately there are a lot of smart, dedicated people already working on these problems. Some of the great resources we have come across in our work include the new Decode Democracy project from our friends at Maplight, the Media Manipulation Casebook from Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center, Stanford's Internet Observatory's Election Integrity Partnership's post-election report, The Long Fuse: Misinformation and the 2020 Election, and Protect Democracy's National Task Force on Election Crises' report, Lessons and Recommendations from the 2020 Election.

This is just a snapshot of the efforts underway across the country to tackle the election challenges ahead of us. We look forward to sharing CVF's findings and recommendations later this Spring.

-- Kim Alexander, President & Founder, California Voter Foundation