LOS ANGELES — The critical question left in the California recall election that could remove Gov. Gavin Newsom isn’t whether someone likes the first-term Democrat — it’s who is going to take the time to vote.
At this point, it’s all about turnout.
Mail-in ballots went to all 22 million registered voters, in mid-August, for the unusual, late-summer election. More than 5 million have been returned so far and while it’s not known how they voted, information is available on their political affiliation, age and ethnicity.
The data show Democrats are off to an encouraging start, turning in more than twice the number submitted by Republicans, a rate that largely mirrors the party’s registration edge in the state. More than a third of those who have voted are 65 or older.
But with less than two weeks left before the Sept. 14 election, many unknowns remain.
Some of the state’s most inconsistent voters — younger people and Latinos who both lean Democratic — aren’t showing up in expected numbers. Will that change? And will many Republicans wait to vote in person rather than send in mailed ballots? That’s what happened in 2020 and it helped the GOP re-capture several US House seats in the heavily Democratic state.
Because of the oddly timed election — scheduled at the tail end of summer amid a pandemic — it’s difficult to be confident about who will vote. “The exact number is really anybody’s guess,” said Mindy Romero, director of the University of Southern California’s Center for Inclusive Democracy. She called a recall election “its own unique animal.”
Driving voter turnout is a crucial factor but it’s not a precise science. Newsom and his Republican rivals, including conservative talk radio host Larry Elder and former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, are competing with a host of distractions as they seek to win over votes, from back-to-school preparations to massive wildfires burning in Northern California.