The accelerated schedule of this year’s gubernatorial recall election threatens to overwhelm local elections divisions.
As Republicans object to the decision to hold the election Sept. 14, rather than some time in November when elections normally take place, county elections staff are already at work making sure poll sites and ballots are available on time.
In Kern County, Registrar of Voters Mary Bedard said the county expected the election to take place in November, but would be able to make the deadlines associated with the September date.
“It’s certainly going to be a challenge, just having a huge countywide election when we weren’t expecting it, but it’s certainly doable,” she said. “We’ve known for quite a while that it’s coming so we’ve been able to do some preliminary work.”
The recall election is expected to cost $2.9 million locally, a figure roughly equivalent to the cost of a regular election. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill last week earmarking $250 million to local elections offices for the recall.
Just like 2020’s general election, every registered voter will receive a mail-in ballot. Those ballots have to be sent out in mid-August, a little more than a month away.
Unfortunately for county workers, a planned improvement to the Election Division’s ballot sorting system is being put off due to the recall. The roughly $2.2 million project funded almost entirely by the state will pay for a remodel of the office as well as an expansion of the mail-in ballot sorter.
The upgrade is meant to allow the Elections Division to process ballots faster.
“When we thought it was going to be in November, we thought we were going to have a lot of this in place,” Bedard said. “At this point, everything is being put off.”
Aside from the logistical hurdles presented by the September election, the date of the recall has drawn criticism from Republicans, who say Newsom is attempting to swing the vote in his favor.
“Manipulating the timing of the recall election is an attempt to put a thumb on the scale to try to gain advantage for the governor,” Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, wrote in an email to The Californian. “Over 1.7 million Californians signed a recall petition because they want a change. Our state Constitution provides voters that option, and we should protect the process that gives Californians a voice. They and many more will show up and vote whenever the election is set, but the message sent by Governor Newsom and California Democrats proves the public’s frustration that politicians will do whatever they can to stay in power.”
He added that moving the election would force elections officials to bear even more administrative burdens.
Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, said those who signed the recall “are most likely fed up with rising gas taxes, soft on crime policies and lack of preparedness for wildfires and droughts.”
The Kern County Elections Division expects to be able to handle the additional work. Staffers are in the process of training poll workers and verifying polling sites will be available.