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Dismissing Voter Choice No Way to Win Recall Election

Dan Kapelovitz and Michael Feinstein: The Dan Kapelovitz for Governor candidacy offers a primary focus on ranked-choice voting and proportional representation elections.
Dismissing Voter Choice

Now that ballots for the September 14 Recall election are hitting the homes of over 22 million Californians, Governor Gavin Newsom and his team are messaging how to vote - but what message are they really sending to voters?

On Question #1 – “Do you want to recall Governor Newsom?” – their recommendation is understandable – “Vote No” in order to keep Newsom in office.

But on Question #2 – “If the governor is recalled, who do you want to replace him?” – Newsom and his team are engaging in a form of voter suppression and telling voters to “leave it blank” and give up their vote. 

Strategically, not filling out Question #2 clears the way for Republicans to take over the governor’s office, if the recall effort is successful. By ceding the electorate on Question #2 to pro-recall voters, this may also lead to the most reactionary and extreme Republican being elected, who can then claim a stronger mandate with a higher percentage of the vote, than they may have received otherwise.

The Dan Kapelovitz for Governor candidacy offers a primary focus on ranked-choice voting and proportional representation elections.

But more profoundly, telling voters not to vote on Question #2 demonstrates exactly the type of personal arrogance and elitism that got Newsom in trouble with so many voters with the French Laundry Restaurant scandal — an arrogance that helped fuel the recall petition drive to qualify in the first place. 

Newsom has every right to campaign for himself on Question #1, by urging a ‘No’ vote. But it is not his place to tell voters to give up their choice on Question #2 - its their choice, not his. Showing such disdain for voter choice suggests Newsom really doesn’t belong in the Governor’s office in the first place — as it is supposed to be an office respecting all Californians.

This isn’t the first time that Newsom thinks he knows more about what’s good for voters than they do. In 2019, Newsom vetoed SB212, a bill that would've have given voters more choice in California’s 361 general law cities — as well as in all of California’s school districts and counties — by giving them the option to adopt ranked-choice voting for use in local elections, contingent upon a local public vote.

The Dan Kapelovitz for Governor candidacy offers a primary focus on ranked-choice voting and proportional representation elections. Ranked-choice voting gives voters the option to rank multiple candidates and eliminates ‘vote-splitting’ and the ‘lesser-of-two-evils’ dynamic. Under proportional representation, instead of winner-take-all, single-seat-district elections, parties win seats in multi-seat districts, in proportion to their support among the voters. Every vote for the Kapelovitz campaign is a vote for these important reforms and a viable multi-party democracy for California, giving more people a seat at the table of our democracy.

The recall phenomena itself shows it’s time for these reforms. Newsom and supporters want to frame the recall effort as Republican-driven only. But many left-of-center voters also signed the recall petition. Some because they were underwhelmed by Newsom’s performance in office. But others signed, because they feel generally underrepresented under California’s Top Two elections.

This manifested with Newsom because he never faced a serious progressive challenger in 2018. If California had a viable multi-party democracy — with multiple parties winning seats in the state legislature — there would be at least one more progressive than the Democrats winning seats. In European democracies under elections by proportional representation, Green and other left parties provide such a progressive alternative to the Social Democratic and Labor parties there.

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Such a more progressive party in California would have put forward a strong gubernatorial candidate to compete against Newsom, perhaps someone with a strong social movement background, and possibly having already served time in the state legislature.

But we don’t have such proportional system. Instead we’re stuck with a duopoly and Top Two elections. Worse than most single-seat, winner-take-all elections, Top Two limits voter choice to only two general-election candidates - and makes it extremely hard for minor-party candidates (like the Greens, Libertarians or Peace & Freedom Party) to even qualify for the primary election ballot. As a result, we had the non-event choice of Newsom vs. Republican John Cox, with little meaningful policy debate.

If Newsom had also faced a serious progressive challenger (or two) in 2018 under a ranked-choice general election vote featuring multiple strong candidates – that might have compelled him to have supported AB1400 this year - the single payer, ‘Medicare for All’ bill in the state legislature, instead of running and hiding from it. Arguably some people signed the recall petition because of his failure on that issue.

Or, say there was a strong environmental justice candidate pushing Newsom in the 2018 race - and setting it up to gain even more support in 2022 if Newsom didn’t deliver in his first term. In that case, perhaps Newsom takes stronger and earlier action on climate change, supports a immediate ban on fracking (instead of delaying it til 2024), and supports a mandated 2,500-foot setback between dangerous oil and gas extraction and neighborhoods — all top priorities for California’s environmental-justice communities. Will Newsom’s failure to champion those communities create an enthusiasm gap for him in the recall?

Speaking of the environment, California Democratic Party Chair Rusty Hicks - who supports accepting donations to the Democratic Party from the fossil fuel industry - says giving up your voter choice on Question #2 “Saves your time. Saves your energy. Saves your self-respect… from casting your vote for a candidate who isn’t worthy of your support - or the support of California voters” 

Again this is a high ranking state Democrat who apparently doesn’t believe voters can and should make up their own minds. Where does this condescension come from? Perhaps from our broken electoral system that overstates support for the Democratic Party.

Republicans argue that California suffers from being a “one-party” state, because Democrats are winning all statewide elections, and hold supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature. But California is a one-party state because under our duopoly system, the only electorally-viable alternative to the Democrats are the Republicans. With such limited choice before the voters, Democrats win far more seats than their performance on the issues would merit. 

For example, despite holding 70-75% of the seats in both houses of the state legislature, Democrats could not pass a bill between 2018 and 2020 to confront our state/national/global plastic pollution crisis — even when handed well-crafted, visionary legislation to do so, like the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act (SB54/AB1080).

With more electable options under proportional representation, voters would have more choice, be represented by a greater range of parties and viewpoints - and would have more leverage to elect more progressive legislators when major parties like the Democrats fail the voters. Instead we are left with an electoral system that renders false majorities by limiting voter choice — and limits/denies voice and representation for many voters in our state.

In the end, voting ‘no’ on the recall still makes the most sense. Newsom’s arrogance by itself is not a reason to remove him from office. And typical of our lesser-of-evils system, if the recall succeeds, the result will likely be someone worse in the Governor’s office — in this case because viable Democratic candidates were strongly ‘encouraged’ not to run, leaving the field open to ‘name’ Republicans.

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If you want more than having to vote your fears and not your hopes, then voting this time for a candidate that supports a more inclusive democracy is your right and your mind to make up — something neither Gavin Newsom nor any other person has the right to tell you otherwise.

Dan Kapelovitz and Michael Feinstein