Recall results: Gov. Gavin Newsom takes solid lead in early returns

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A solid majority of voters so far want to keep Gov. Gavin Newsom in office for another year, according to the first round of ballots tallied in Tuesday’s statewide recall election.

Those initial results, posted by the Secretary of State just after polls closed at 8 p.m., were expected to heavily favor Democrats. That’s because they’re entirely from early mail-in voting, while a majority of Republicans said they planned to vote in person on Election Day.

Vote centers and polling places across Southern California reported some delays, with wait times longer than 20 minutes at multiple locations Tuesday evening. If those and other votes eventually tip the recall question so that Newsom is removed from office, a plurality of voters in early returns said they want to give California’s top job to conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder, who took a strong early lead in a 46-candidate field that includes longtime Republican politicians John Cox and Kevin Faulconer, and Democratic real estate investor Kevin Paffrath.

Though Elder and a few hundred of his supporters gathered Tuesday night in a ballroom at the Hilton in Costa Mesa for what they called a “victory party,” his team already put out statements attributing a predicted loss to unproven claims of voter fraud.

Such fraud, to date, has not been found. Officials on Tuesday said some routine voting issues, such as equipment needing to be replaced and a worker making an error about coding on a small number of ballots, had been reported and addressed. But they said the vast majority of vote centers ran smoothly.

But in-person numbers will be only a fraction of this year’s vote. More than 9 million Californians cast ballots prior to Election Day, and overall turnout is expected to approach 50%. With Democrats outnumbering Republicans in California by two to one, and no evidence so far of independent and third-party voters breaking strongly against Newsom, the governor’s camp was confident heading into Tuesday.

“There’s no scenario where we lose,” Sean Clegg, top aide to Newsom, said Monday night.

Voters weigh in

To keep his seat, Newsom needs at least 50% plus one voter to say “no” to the first question on Tuesday’s ballot: Shall Gavin Newsom be recalled (removed) from the office of Governor?” Recent polls show Newsom winning that question by as much as 20 points.

Bil Gaines, a 40-year-old Democrat from the unincorporated Riverside County community of Winchester, mailed in his ballot to vote against the recall.

“I’m not the world’s biggest Newsom fan, but the Republican Party scares the hell out of me,” Gaines said. “I don’t want to give up the state’s top job to one of a motley collection of wannabe fascists, talentless TV personalities, and corporate climate deniers.”

  • Voters wait in line to cast their ballots in the California Gubernatorial Recall Election at the Huntington Beach Central Library in Huntington Beach, CA, on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Remi Martinez, 4, plays under voting booths as his father, Brandon Martinez, votes in the California Gubernatorial Recall Election at the Huntington Beach Central Library in Huntington Beach, CA, on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Voters wait in line to cast their ballots in the California Gubernatorial Recall Election at the Huntington Beach Central Library in Huntington Beach, CA, on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Tara Robinson voted but her dog Leo got to wear the sticker in the California recall election at a polling center set up at El Camino Real high school in Woodland Hills, CA Tuesday, September 14, 2021. Tuesday is the final day of voting in the California recall election. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Voting clerk Lemuel Bishop collects ballots for the California recall election at a drive-up ballot drop off at the Riverside County Registrar of Voters in Riverside on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Ana Vargas, of Riverside, drops off her ballot for the California recall election, with children, from left, Zoe Giardina, 6, Elias Giardina, 5, and Sage Giardina, 6, at Riverside County Registrar of Voters in Riverside on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Voting clerk Ivette Banuelos, center, collects a ballot for the California recall election at a drive-thru mail-in ballot drop-off area at the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters office in San Bernardino on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Voters cast their ballots in the California recall election at the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters office in San Bernardino on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • A dog lays on the cool tile at the Orange County Registrar of Voters in Santa Ana on Tuesday afternoon, September 14, 2021, as voters cast their ballot in the California gubernatorial recall election. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Voters stand in line in the lobby of the Irvine Civic Center in Irvine to cast their ballots in the California gubernatorial recall election on Tuesday afternoon, September 14, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Workers at the Orange County Registrar of Voters in Santa Ana prepare ballots to be counted on Tuesday morning, September 14, 2021, in the California gubernatorial recall election. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Axl Rose waits with the humans at Irvine City Hall where recall election voters wait about 50 minutes on Tuesday, September 14, 2021. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Recall proponents largely brushed off unfavorable polling, saying such surveys as unreliable.

“It’s not the first time we’ve been underestimated,” said Anne Dunsmore, campaign manager for Rescue California, which helped drive fundraising and other support for the recall.

In the San Fernando Valley, David Lawrence left the vote center at El Camino Real Charter High School on Tuesday declaring that it was time for Newsom to go.

“I don’t care if it’s a Democrat or a Republican. I just want someone to manage the state,” he said.

The race could be closer in the Inland Empire, which is home to solid pockets of GOP voters and blue-collar, moderate Democrats. In 2018, the governor narrowly lost Riverside County and narrowly won San Bernardino County.

But while polls over the summer showed strong Inland support for the recall, a late August Public Policy Institute of California poll found 54% of Inland voters opposed to the recall with 46% supporting it.

Ryan Maguire, a 34-year-old Murrieta Democrat, said he voted against the recall because he thinks Newsom has done a “great job leading our state during the pandemic.”

“The fact that the Republican front runner is a conservative talk radio host is pretty ridiculous,” Maguire said. “The executive orders that Elder would sign would undo a lot of the progress that we have made as a state in fighting COVID.”

The Elder factor

When asked what she thought made public opinion swing toward Newsom in recent weeks, recall spokesman Randy Economy pointed to Elder.

“I know he’s a very popular talk show host,” Economy said. “But I think a lot of people on both sides of the aisle have great concerns about him and his leadership skills.”

But 90-year-old Republican Jan Edwards of Woodland Hills said she’s been an Elder fan  for a long time and enthusiastically cast her ballot to have him replace Newsom.

“He’s a good communicator and he has the right ideas,” Edwards said. “He’s all for freedom.”

Despite her enthusiasm for Elder, Edwards said she “knew this election would be rigged.” She cited what turned out to be a technical error that popped up at her vote center on Saturday, which led a worker to mistakenly tell a group of voters their ballots had already been cast.

The issue was fixed, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s office, and Edwards was able to vote with a provisional ballot. But she said she notified conservative watchdog groups about what happened, after Elder and other GOP leaders told voters to be on the lookout for fraud.

Others echoing the fraud claim included former President Donald Trump, who said in a statement Monday: “Does anybody really believe the California Recall Election isn’t rigged?”

Since losing re-election,Trump has spread baseless claims about voter fraud that have been denied in dozens of court cases. Critics say the claims undermine democracy and backfire on Republicans by depressing GOP turnout.

The only confirmed report of a law being broken related to voting in Southern California happened Tuesday morning in Los Angeles County, when an election worker was told to leave after wearing a pro-Trump hat and a t-shirt that made a reference to President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. A photo of the poll worker gained traction on social media.

State law prohibits such attire under electioneering codes.

Elections officials will continue counting ballots until late Tuesday night, then start again early Wednesday morning. By law they have to count all ballots that arrive to their offices within seven days after Election Day, so long as they were postmarked by Sept. 14. Results will be certified and final in 30 days.

If Newsom is recalled, whoever gets the most votes on question two will take his place on Oct. 22 and assume the position for the remainder of the term, through Jan. 2, 2023.

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