The California recall election was certainly full of sound and fury. Whether it signifies anything beyond the retention of Gov. Gavin Newsom — at least until the seat comes up for its normal election next year — is certain to be debated for a while, but given the resounding margin, the entire effort appears to have been frivolous.
But from half a continent away, we’re pretty sure of this: Minnesota’s recall mechanism is superior to California’s.
Minnesota voters passed a recall amendment to the state Constitution in 1996; while the process has been started a few times, no effort has ever gotten to the voters.
That’s because Minnesota requires that the initial petitioners establish one of three grounds for recall of state officers: malfeasance in office (misuse of powers), nonfeasance (refusing to carry out the duties of office) or commission of a serious crime. The state Supreme Court determines the validity of the initial petition. Only then may the process of getting a recall petition circulated to the public begin.
Three times already such petitions have been filed against Gov. Tim Walz, all pertaining to his use of emergency powers during the pandemic; each time the court has swatted the petition aside. California has no such safeguard. Political opponents can fire up the removal process for any reason at any time.
And if the process in Minnesota gets to the point of an actual removal vote, it is a straight up-or-down vote. There would be no second ballot as in California, with dozens of candidates offering themselves as a replacement. A second election would follow, preferably as part of a general election.
It was theoretically possible that Newsom would be removed from office despite the support of more than 40% of the voters and replaced by somebody with the support of 20% or even less. Indeed, that was the best Newsom’s foes could hope for. That sort of outcome would be a travesty.
Elections matter. California’s recall system makes it too easy to undermine the results and too likely the new governor would not reflect the will of the electorate. Minnesota’s system has valuable safeguards.