California politicians facing recalls would be allowed to see the names of people who sign the petitions to oust them under legislation that cleared its first committee Monday.
If passed, it would take effect next year, meaning it would not apply to the expected recall election against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. But leaders of that effort showed up at the Capitol in opposition to the proposal, saying it would discourage people from signing future petitions for fear of retaliation.
“This is a dangerous and reckless bill,” said Orrin Heatlie, the lead proponent of the Newsom recall. “It would stifle the process.”
State Sen. Josh Newman, the bill’s author, sees it differently. Newman, who represents parts of Orange and other counties, was recalled in 2018 before winning his seat back last November. He says the proposal would allow politicians to make sure voters weren’t duped into signing petitions and let them explain to voters how to withdraw their signatures if they wish.
Petition signers would then have 45 days to remove their names. Currently, people have 30 days but finding and convincing people to walk back their signature is a difficult task.
“It is a fundamental tenet of the American justice system that the accused should always have the right to face his or her accusers,” Newman said during a public hearing before the Senate elections committee.
He sought to distance the bill from the recall against Newsom, even praising the organizers in a break from Democrats who have painted the effort as deceptive about its ties to Republican movements.
“They have been nothing if not direct and honest with the people of California,” Newman said. “Anybody who has signed their petition probably has a very clear understanding as to what they’re asking and why.”
California is one of 19 states that allow citizens to recall politicians, which means they are removed from office before their terms are up. In California, recalls can be used to remove governors and other statewide elected officials, state lawmakers and local elected officials. The pending recall against Newsom, which has not yet qualified for the ballot, is likely to be the second gubernatorial recall election in state history.
In order for a recall to qualify, organizers must get valid signatures from a certain percentage of the electorate when the target won office, 12% in the case of statewide officials and 20% for state lawmakers. But the signatures are not subject to the California Public Records Act and can only be viewed by people collecting them, election officials or state attorneys.
Newman’s bill would let the target of the recall access the names of people who signed for certain purposes. The individual signatures would be redacted. Politicians or their representatives would have to sign under penalty of perjury that they won’t share the names publicly and will only use them to determine whether signers understood the petition and want to remove their signatures. It prohibits officials from discriminating against people who sign the petition.
But opponents say it would still intimidate people out of participating.
“People were terrified — terrified — to sign this because they didn’t want Newsom to know,” said Shannon Hile, who collected signatures for the Newsom recall effort.
The Senate elections committee passed the bill, sending it next to the Senate judiciary committee. It still needs to win approval in both houses. It would only apply to elections with more than 50,000 registered voters.