Recall Election: Live Updates as Polls Close in California

Current time in California: Sept. 14, 8:27 p.m.

As the way Californians vote shifts increasingly toward mail and early voting, election officials will need to figure out how to ensure that anyone who wants to vote in person on Election Day can do so without encountering long waits. I heard some grumbling in Irvine this afternoon.

Polls have officially closed in California, but if you’re still in line: stay there and vote.

Under California law, any voter in line by 8 p.m. has the right to cast a ballot, no matter how far back they are in line. In every election, it seems, there are reports of a polling place shutting down before every voter in line has a chance to vote. But election officials throughout the state repeatedly assure voters that their ballot can and should be counted. (Sometimes get out the vote workers even deliver pizza for those standing in long lines.)

On Tuesday night, in a bit of a reversal, some of the longest lines appear to be in Republican-heavy precincts. In the morning, the lines in Orange County were almost nonexistent. But just an hour before polls closed, there were reports of dozens of lines stretching at least 20 minutes throughout the once-Republican-stronghold that has swung toward Democrats in recent elections.

Early result: “no” at 72 percent in Napa County, the heavily Democratic wine country north of the Bay Area. Newsom won 65 percent of the vote in Napa in 2018, so this is a strong showing for him in the early going.

Napa is also, perhaps appropriately, home of The French Laundry.

Wow, the effects of mail-in voting. It hasn’t even been 30 minutes since the polls closed and the estimates are that more than 40 percent of the count is already in.

There are two ways this could go down, and both are arguably historic. Newsom could become the third governor to be recalled from office in U.S. history, or he could be the second to beat back a recall effort (the other is Wisconsin’s Scott Walker).

The U.S. Senate also potentially hangs in the balance. If a Republican wins, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein steps down, a Republican would likely take her place, handing power in the chamber to the G.O.P.

The first batch of votes to be reported are mail-in ballots returned before Election Day. Democrats have historically voted in higher numbers by mail. Newsom strategists expect a big advantage in these early returns — particularly in populous counties like San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Given the state’s huge Democratic lean, it would be hard for Republicans to win on the votes of their party alone. So one thing to watch for is how independents break. Do they defect from Newsom, who won in a landslide in 2018?

Credit…Allison Zaucha for The New York Times

Polls have officially closed in California, but whether or not the state’s governor will get to keep his job is likely to remain unclear for at least a couple more hours.

Or, if the race is tighter than expected based on early counts, residents of the nation’s most populous state will have to wait even longer — even weeks — before they know whether Gov. Gavin Newsom has been ousted.

Analysts say they have a pretty good guess of how the process will play out, because millions of Californians have already cast ballots early or by mail.

Thanks to an extension of pandemic election rules, all of the state’s some 22 million active registered voters were automatically sent ballots — a fact that experts say has led to high turnout for a uniquely timed and, for many, confusing special election in a year when voters aren’t already thinking about who they want to be president or governor.

As of Tuesday, 43 percent of those 22 million voters had returned their ballots. Most of the ballots that have already been cast were from registered Democrats, according to Political Data, Inc., a nonpartisan provider of election data.

Election officials in California’s 58 counties are allowed to begin counting votes early, but they can’t reveal any results until after polls have closed. Then, they have 30 days to complete their official canvass and must give vote-by-mail ballots postmarked on Election Day a week to arrive. The certified count is not expected until Oct. 22.

But experts have said that the state’s electoral math is very much in Mr. Newsom’s favor. Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one. And many more Democrats than Republicans have returned their ballots already.

Still, many Republicans said they were waiting to vote in person on Election Day, citing claims about election fraud that have been shown to be unsubstantiated.

If in-person turnout on Tuesday is significant enough, it could tighten the race and drag out the count.

Polls, however, have shown Mr. Newsom’s lead widening in recent days.

Several of Newsom’s advisers have pointed to Senator Dianne Feinstein as a hopeful precedent. In 1983, Feinstein, then mayor of San Francisco, beat back an attempted recall by more than 80 percent and emerged stronger than ever.

Special elections tend to attract fewer people to the polls, but mail-in voting may give the numbers a boost. During the last recall election of a California governor, in 2003, 61 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

Many people have told me that voter interest and media coverage of this election seems much lower than during the 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis. That’s probably because Arnold Schwarzenegger was running then, but also because it was the first recall of a governor in the U.S. in more than 80 years.

A crucial group with relatively low turnout: young voters. 28 percent of the ballots mailed for this election went to voters 18 to 34, the largest share of any age group. But those voters have returned the fewest ballots so far.

Credit…Ryan Young for The New York Times

Newsom has been warning that he is what stands between California becoming Texas or Florida, and has pointed to Florida’s high Covid-19 numbers and Texas’s stringent abortion ban.

The recall probably couldn’t have happened without Covid-19. It gave Gov. Gavin Newsom’s opponents an extension to circulate petitions, made Californians anxious and agitated, and got Newsom in trouble with that dinner at The French Laundry.

Credit…Ariana Drehsler for The New York Times

But the pandemic also generated billions of dollars in federal aid, which allowed Newsom to roll out mass vaccinations. And lately, cases have plateaued, allowing the governor to run as the leader of a state with one of the nation’s highest vaccination rates.

We’re 30 minutes away from polls closing. With so many mailed ballots, we could have some quick results — but California is notoriously slow, so a tight race will mean a long night.

The early returns are likely to show a wide lead for Newsom, with the ballots returned so far mostly from registered Democrats. But if the race appears tight early on, it’s possible there are Democrats voting for the recall that polling has missed.

Credit…Steve Yeater/Associated Press

At first, political experts said that if it happened, the recall election would happen later in the year — probably November? There was a complex, lengthy process that would have to take place first, and the earlier estimates accounted for all of that. But the date came much sooner than expected: Sept. 14.

How? Why? What does it mean for Newsom and his opponents? Here’s what you need to know.

Who set the election date for Sept. 14?

The date was decided by Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, a Democrat who is closely allied with the governor. It was the soonest that county officials said they could pull together a special election.

Previous estimates were later because the recall election process required an additional step, a cost review, before a date could be set. But lawmakers passed a bill in June allowing the state to bypass that review and pick an earlier date.

Is the date good or bad for Newsom?

It’s clear that Newsom and his advisers believe the earlier date is good for him. From a lawmaking standpoint, the Sept. 14 timing is advantageous for the governor, according to David McCuan, a political science professor at Sonoma State University.

California’s recall provision was part of a suite of voting reforms passed by progressive Republicans in 1911 to curb the power of the railroads. But now these reforms have become tools of big business.

Baseless accusations of voter fraud from Republican leaders have taken hold among some G.O.P. voters — several I spoke with in Orange County today said they were unsure whether they would believe the result.

The common wisdom is that elections favor the incumbent, but not with recalls. The recall elections that took place across the U.S. between 2010 and 2020 had a removal rate of about 60 percent. In California, the removal rate was far higher — 78 percent.

A hidden advantage for Gov. Gavin Newsom: He’s from San Francisco. Bay Area voters have very high turnout, perhaps why its politicians — Newsom, Kamala Harris, Dianne Feinstein — have long dominated state politics.

As poll closing gets closer, long lines have formed at election sites in Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach in Orange County, a traditional G.O.P. redoubt that has swung back and forth in recent elections.

Republicans really need to see a massive in-person turnout in order to close the gap with Democrats, which stood at more than 2 million votes earlier today. Not all Democrats necessarily voted against the recall, but those numbers are a big part of what’s leading to early exuberance among Gov. Gavin Newsom’s supporters.

Credit…Ryan Young for The New York Times

As of Election Day, polls show a significant edge for Gov. Gavin Newsom, with 57 percent of Californians against the recall and 41.5 percent in support, according to the FiveThirtyEight average.

There are, of course, no guarantees, and election results will not be released for several hours. But experts say that Mr. Newsom’s advantage appears large enough to withstand major polling errors.

Mr. Newsom’s bump in the polls may come as a surprise, given how close the race appeared weeks ago.

In July, a poll by The Los Angeles Times and the University of California, Berkeley, found a near 50-50 split on the recall among likely voters. When that same group released new data on Friday, 60 percent of likely voters opposed recalling Mr. Newsom, more than 21 percentage points higher than the share that wanted to oust him.

There are several possible explanations for the shift, experts say.

Between the pandemic and wildfires, the election hadn’t been on the average Californian’s radar until ballots appeared in mailboxes in mid-August. As with the presidential election last year, all 22-plus million registered voters in the state received a ballot to vote by mail.

“The minute the absentee ballots went out, suddenly everybody’s ears perked up,” said Raphael Sonenshein, the executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

More people paying attention to the election helped Mr. Newsom because of how heavily Democratic California is — registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly two to one. In other words, if enough people vote, Mr. Newsom’s job is safe.

Plus, the polls from earlier in the summer that showed a tighter race may have helped motivate Democrats. Many liberals may have initially assumed that the election was a long shot and that they could skip voting.

In recent weeks, Mr. Newsom, aided by $70 million in campaign contributions, has also been hammering home the idea that he is all that stands between Californians and a future defined by a president most of them didn’t want. “We may have defeated Donald Trump, but we have not defeated Trumpism,” Mr. Newsom said.

His argument may have been bolstered by the emergence of a top rival, the conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, who once called the election of Mr. Trump “divine intervention.”

There’s been a lot of discussion about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ill-fated dinner at The French Laundry during the pandemic (our restaurant critic explains why it was such a big deal), but it’s still been kind of amazing that nearly every voter I’ve talked to, both for and against the recall, has mentioned that dinner as informing their opinion of him.

FULLERTON, Calif. — The quiet unnerved Steven Vaughn, 55, who showed up at the Fullerton Library to cast his ballot to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom from office. As Mr. Vaughn saw it, Mr. Newsom is an elitist who has been out of touch with voters from the moment he stepped into office. And everyone he knows, Mr. Vaughn said, feels the same way. But when he arrived at the polling place midday, there were hardly any other voters around.

This worried Mr. Vaughn, since he knew supporters of the recall were relying on robust in-person turnout, having stoked fears about voting by mail for weeks. “Maybe it means we’re going to lose,” he said, adding that he could not be certain he would believe the results if Mr. Newsom won.

Supporters of the recall, including former President Donald J. Trump and the leading Republican candidate, Larry Elder, have sown doubts about the election results in recent days. Mr. Elder went as far as announcing on Monday, before a single vote had been counted, that his team had created a website for supporters to report claims of fraud.

It is impossible to know whether conspiracy theories of a “rigged” election have suppressed Republican turnout, but Mr. Vaughn said he was not worried about that. “We’ll make our voices heard,” he said. “We’re the not-silent majority.”

Can we talk about zoning? Still on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk is a controversial bill that would allow duplexes in single-family neighborhoods across California, in hopes of easing the state’s housing shortage. Newsom’s office won’t comment on whether he intends to sign it, presumably because the normally dry topic of zoning has become a hot-button issue as California’s housing crisis has deepened.

Credit…John Francis Peters for The New York Times

There is no evidence of any fraud in the California recall election so far, but that hasn’t stopped a large number of partisan election observers from hunting for nefarious actors.

Across California, partisan poll watchers have been monitoring ballot boxes, early-voting locations and Election Day polling sites. Some have been aggressive toward voters, while others have repeatedly challenged voter signatures, according to election officials. And some have even tried to obtain personal information about election administrators.

“Our office is seeing more aggressive behavior by observers,” said Mike Sanchez, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder, the county’s elections office. “Election-related activities are open and transparent, and we welcome members of the public to observe the process. But observers cannot disrupt the election process, or interact/interview our employees.”

Multiple groups that call themselves election integrity outfits have been focusing on the recall election, including one from Larry Elder, the leading Republican candidate. The California Republican Party has also revamped its election integrity operation for the recall. The expansion of such groups comes as false allegations of election fraud in California have become widespread among conservatives both in the state and nationally.

Mr. Elder has suggested, without any evidence, that there might be “shenanigans” in the administration of the election and that there are fraudulent mail ballots. Former President Donald J. Trump has repeatedly made the false claim that the election is rigged. That narrative quickly spilled into the voting process on Tuesday.

“Our inbound calls that we receive in our phone bank have very similar and consistent themes,” said Neal Kelley, the top elections official for Orange County. “It’s almost like people are kind of reading things on the internet and then they’re just kind of repeating that to us. And we’re seeing the same things from the observers as well.”

One group, known as the Election Integrity Project, has been particularly prevalent across the state, with observers continually making challenges or disrupting the process, as reported by The Los Angeles Times. Mr. Sanchez confirmed that the Los Angeles County elections office had received complaints of aggressive behavior by members of the Election Integrity Project.

Formed roughly nine years ago, the Election Integrity Project claims to be a nonpartisan nonprofit group. The organization says it seeks “to fulfill our duty to actively participate in the governing of our state/country by helping to defend the integrity of the voting process that protects our freedoms and way of life,” according to its website.

Despite its claims of nonpartisanship, the project has teamed up with conservative groups such as Judicial Watch and has espoused conspiracy theories about American elections, especially about mail ballots. The group claims to have trained more than 10,000 observers since its formation, though election officials across the state estimate that only a small percentage of those observers have actually shown up at the polls.

The group is well known to Shirley Weber, a Democrat who is California’s secretary of state. She said the group had been challenging signatures at registrar’s offices, which was causing confusion because it did not have the authority or right to make such challenges.

“That’s been an issue that we’ve had to kind of restrict folks to make sure that they understood what their role was as observers, and not as persons who work here in the secretary of state’s office,” Dr. Weber said in an interview.

The Election Integrity Project did not respond to a request for comment. Dr. Weber noted that the group claims to be gathering information for a possible legal action or challenges after the election.

“We know that they’re collecting material,” Dr. Weber said. “Whatever that is, we have yet to see it, because I understand all of that is being collected for a lawsuit, and not necessarily just to be given to us as, ‘Here’s some things we think will help you do a better job.’ So it’s not like they’re the helpful hands that we get. No, they’re not.”

The recall shows how inescapable Donald Trump remains in American politics. Gov. Gavin Newsom actively tried to rally Democrats by warning about Trumpism. And Republicans hewed closely to Trump’s top issue, raising baseless alarms about a rigged election and voter fraud.

Californians across the state went to the polls in Tuesday’s recall election. Locations across the state will remain open for voters until 8 p.m. local time.

Polls haven’t even closed and 43 percent of California’s huge electorate has already voted. A big reason is — wait for it — the pandemic, which led to all of the state’s 22 million or so active and registered voters being mailed ballots. A bill to make the system permanent is now on the governor’s desk.

PALO ALTO, Calif. — At Palo Alto’s Cubberley Community Center, so many people came to vote in person on Election Day that the volunteers working the center had to add four additional poll workers.

“We’ve been working our butts off,” said Peggy Keep, a poll worker, sinking into a red-and-gray lawn chair to eat her first meal of the day at 3:30 p.m.

One of the over 550 voters who showed up was Chris Mo, a recent graduate of nearby Henry M. Gunn High School. He turned 18 nine days after the presidential election last fall, and cast his first ever vote on Tuesday to keep Gov. Gavin Newsom in office. “I don’t want the possibility of a Republican governor,” he said.

Many voters at the community center, a short bike ride from the tech campuses of downtown Palo Alto, agreed with him. Just over half of voters in Santa Clara County, which includes Palo Alto, are registered Democrats, compared to 16 percent who are Republicans.

Tanner Kenneth, a recent transplant from the Midwest completing his graduate degree at Stanford, voted for the recall, saying that he was in favor of a divided government. “The Covid stuff was a little severe,” he added.

Palo Alto, along with the rest of the Bay Area, was first in the nation to institute a lockdown last March. Over 80 percent of Santa Clara County residents are now vaccinated.

Across Highway 101, in East Palo Alto, over 100 voters had showed up to cast their ballots in the Lewis and Joan Platt Family YMCA by midafternoon. The city is made up overwhelmingly of people of color, and its vaccination rate, at 82.3 percent, surpasses much of California but lags behind nearby, wealthier areas like Menlo Park, where San Mateo County reports that 100 percent of individuals over the age of 10 are vaccinated.

At the YMCA on Tuesday, many expressed only qualified support for Gov. Gavin Newsom: “With a lot of these politicians, if these were regular jobs, they’d be fired,” said David Moore, 57. Mr. Moore said he wanted to see more action on “better roads, jobs, infrastructure.” Still, he and others at the polling place indicated that they were voting for Mr. Newsom to keep his job.

Icaro Vazquez, 51, a product manager at the software start-up Chronosphere and an East Palo Alto resident, said the governor was “doing mostly OK,” despite his infamous French Laundry faux pas. “On the optics, he screwed up, but on the rest, he was fine,” Mr. Vazquez said.

For weeks Republicans have baselessly stoked fears of voter fraud, urging their voters to show up in person rather than vote by mail. That means we’re likely to see an early lead for Gov. Gavin Newsom after polls close that will probably dwindle as more in-person ballots are counted.

Because Democrats far outnumber Republicans in California, and because Democrats were more likely to vote by mail, supporters of the recall are hoping for a robust in-person turnout at the polls today.

The governor’s campaign staff members, however, are hoping to see high in-person turnout among Latino voters, who lean Democratic and have returned relatively few ballots so far.

Credit…Allison Zaucha for The New York Times

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — There are only a handful of congressional districts in the country where Republicans unseated Democrats last year.

Orange County has two of them. And if the recall vote to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom succeeds here — or comes close — even if it fails statewide, that would be a serious indication that the long-anticipated flip from red to blue here is failing to materialize.

“I don’t know about the rest of the state,” said Fred Whitaker, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, “but Orange County is going to vote to recall this governor.”

This traditionally Republican redoubt has trended away from the Republican Party in recent years. Before Hillary Clinton won it in 2016, no Democrat had carried the county since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936.

Though President Biden won it last year with 53 percent of the vote, Orange County voters helped defeat two Democratic incumbents who were swept into office just two years earlier, as a backlash to Donald J. Trump led to a repudiation of Republican candidates nationwide. Michelle Steel defeated Harley Rouda in the district that runs up the coast, while Young Kim defeated Gil Cisneros in a district farther inland, north of Anaheim. The two are among only nine Republican members of Congress elected in districts that Mr. Biden won.

Mr. Whitaker, who said he dropped off his ballot over the weekend at his neighborhood drop box, pointed to anecdotal reports of long lines at local polling places, which he interpreted as a good sign considering that many Republicans are partial to voting in person. And the staff answering the phones at the Orange County G.O.P. headquarters reported receiving information from poll watchers about crowds at sites across the county.

Though many Republicans are concerned that their party’s front-runner, the talk show host Larry Elder, is too polarizing to win over enough voters, Mr. Whitaker said he wasn’t so sure that was true in Orange County. He said Mr. Elder’s appeal was that he isn’t the kind of candidate that a more traditional Republican — someone white and middle-aged, like Mr. Whitaker — would naturally gravitate toward.

“He gets good traction with somebody who hasn’t been voting for a while than he does with somebody like me,” Mr. Whitaker said. “I don’t think your run-of-the-mill Republican gets through the messaging noise. But Larry gets through.”

Talking to voters over the past month, I’ve been struck by the fact that very few people expressed strong support for Gov. Gavin Newsom personally. No one mentioned voting for him in 2018, or talked about really loving him as mayor of San Francisco. But they seemed to have gotten his message that they were voting against Trump.

The recall may be almost over, but the fund-raising off it isn’t. I just got an email from the campaign of a Democratic member of Congress, claiming that a “breaking poll” shows the race nearly tied and asking people to “donate right now to save Newsom before polls close” in three and a half hours. (No recent poll shows the race nearly tied.)

Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Californians have been voting early for weeks in the election to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom. But it is unclear how long it will take to get a definitive answer on whether he will keep his job.

Depending on the number of early ballots and the amount of in-person voting on Tuesday, the math could be clear within a few hours of when the polls close at 8 p.m. Pacific time, election experts say. But if the race is tighter than expected, weeks could pass while the counting drags on.

Recall attempts are a fact of political life for governors of California. But they do not usually make it onto the ballot, and Californians have gone to the polls only one other time to determine whether the state’s top officeholder should be ousted. That was in 2003, when Gov. Gray Davis was recalled and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Since then, the state’s voting rules and electorate have changed substantially.

Because of the safety concerns arising from the coronavirus pandemic, ballots were mailed early to all of the state’s 22 million or so registered and active voters in the 2020 election. Voters can return their completed ballots by mail, deposit them in secure drop boxes, vote early in person or vote at a polling place on Tuesday.

Nearly 40 percent of registered voters have already cast ballots, but many Republicans have indicated that they plan to vote in person, citing — without evidence — a concern that election officials in the Democrat-dominated state will tamper with their ballots. Studies after the 2020 election found that the system had worked smoothly, with no systemic voter fraud.

Early Democratic ballots have outnumbered Republican ones by two to one, with overwhelming majorities of voters in both parties telling pollsters they plan to vote along party lines. Mr. Newsom is a Democrat, as is about 46 percent of the electorate.

But that margin is expected to tighten as Republican voters — who represent fewer than a quarter of registered voters — head to the polls.

Vote counts are notoriously slow in California because the state is so massive. The law for this election allows county officials to open and process early ballots as they come in, but those results cannot be shared with the public until the polls close, said Jenna Dresner, a spokeswoman for the California secretary of state’s office.

California has 58 counties, and each processes its ballots differently. Results often land later in larger counties, such as Los Angeles County. Officials have 30 days to complete their official canvass and must give vote-by-mail ballots postmarked on Election Day a week to arrive. The certified count is not expected until Oct. 22.

Significant partial counts should be available within a couple of hours after polls close in some key areas, such as the Bay Area and Orange County. And the electoral math in California should offer some strong clues about the outcome, said Paul Mitchell, a vice president of Political Data Inc., a nonpartisan supplier of election data.

Because so many voters are Democrats, he said, the higher the turnout, the better Mr. Newsom’s chances are of beating the recall. If the overall turnout hits 60 percent, he said, the proposed ouster of Mr. Newsom is almost mathematically impossible.

ARCADIA, Calif. — From her desk in this Los Angeles suburb, Fenglan Liu, 53, responded to a steady stream of questions about the California recall coming from voters on the Chinese messaging app WeChat.

A message popped up from a person requesting a ride to a voting center: Ms. Liu called a volunteer to arrange that. Then another.

“It’s very, very busy,” she said. “Chinese community is waking up and getting involved in politics.”

Ms. Liu is the face of an increasingly politically active constituency of Chinese Americans in Southern California.

In interviews, several said that marijuana dispensaries, homeless people and crime are ruining the cluster of cities east of Los Angeles where Chinese immigrants, many of them now American citizens, have thrived for years. And they place the blame squarely on Gavin Newsom.

Ms. Liu, who immigrated to the United States from mainland China 21 years ago, has been instrumental to mobilizing Chinese American voters in the San Gabriel Valley to support the recall. Starting in June last year, she enlisted an army of volunteers in Arcadia, El Monte and Temple City to collect 10,000 signatures.

“We really don’t like the situation in California,” Ms. Liu said. “No place is safe; crime is terrible. Newsom needs to go. This is failed management, not the pandemic.”

Asian Americans are the fastest-growing ethnic group in California, and their influence in politics has swelled as their numbers have increased.

When the last governor faced a recall, in 2003, Asian Americans comprised seven percent of the electorate. Today they account for 17 percent of all voters in the state.

The majority of Asian Americans in California lean Democratic, according to polls. But Republicans flipped two congressional districts in 2020 electing the first two Korean American congresswomen with support from Asian American voters.

As the recall approached, both Mr. Newsom and his top rival, Larry Elder, courted Asian Americans.

Ms. Liu helped organize successful campaigns in recent years to block plans to build a medical cannabis processing plant and to convert a motel into affordable housing for veterans and formerly homeless people in the San Gabriel Valley.

On Tuesday, Ms. Liu was pleased to encounter a steady influx of Chinese Americans at a voting center in Temple City, and volunteers escorting older Chinese Americans to vote.

“It’s so nice to see people here,” she said. “Before, this many Chinese did not vote.”

Several Chinese Americans who emerged from the voting station echoed Ms. Liu’s concerns about safety as motivating them to want to recall the governor. Others, like Jessie Chiu, 63, derided Mr. Newsom’s “liberal policies,” citing L.G.B.T.Q. issues, marijuana and abortion.

But not every Chinese American wanted to remove the governor, especially young adults like Ryan Lee.

“I voted against the recall,” said the 21-year-old college student, who was born in California to Taiwanese immigrants.

“I’d rather stick with Gavin Newsom than some unknown entity. Maybe he’s not the best. But he’s not a bad governor, either,” he said.

The recall largely papered over some of California’s most persistent and pervasive problems, such as inequality, housing and homelessness. Instead, the campaigns became largely about the pandemic and the national political zeitgeist. But the problems, of course, will still be here no matter what happens tonight.

Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York Times

Besides this effort to recall Gov. Newsom, only one other attempted recall of a California governor, Gray Davis, has ever reached an election. And California is the only place where a recall of a governor has made the ballot twice. So how does the process work?

A recall petition must be signed by enough registered voters to equal 12 percent of the turnout in the last election for governor. The organizers do not need to give a reason for the recall, but they often do. The petition must include at least 1 percent of the last vote for the office in at least five counties. Proponents have 160 days to gather their signatures.

The signatures must then be examined and verified by the California secretary of state. If the petitions meet the threshold — 1,495,709 valid signatures in this case — voters who signed have 30 business days to change their minds.

National Democrats will be watching the results of this race closely for clues about what voters are thinking. One area of particular interest: The pandemic. Gov. Gavin Newsom leaned into a message of mask wearing and vaccine mandates. A big victory for him would reinforce that message for Democrats thinking ahead to the midterms.

If national Democrats are looking for clues from California about mask/vaccine mandates and 2022, that will be music to the ears of Republicans, who are already well positioned to win the House back in 2022.

Of all the issues central to the recall — lockdowns, income inequality, crime, homelessness — one huge story has been less prominent: During the coronavirus pandemic, California paid out more than $11 billion in fraudulent unemployment claims.

Over the final week of the recall campaign, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office has highlighted how much rental assistance the state has paid out as part of the American Rescue Plan. The program was originally hobbled by bureaucracy, making it difficult for landlords and tenants to access. I have to wonder if some of those original problems stemmed from the unemployment debacle.

IRVINE, Calif. — Irvine Civic Center was bustling shortly before noon on Tuesday. The parking lot was full and cars circled looking for spots.

A long line of voters preparing to cast their ballots in person stretched through the airy lobby of Irvine’s City Hall and out around the edge of the sun-baked civic center plaza in the Orange County suburb.

Marc Martino, 26, dressed in blue scrubs, dropped off his ballot. He said he tries not to talk politics with his parents. “They’re the opposite of me, politically,” he added.

So Mr. Martino had not discussed with them his vote against the recall. “As a health care worker, it was important to me to have a governor who follows science,” he said.

Ganesh Krishnan, 34, and Felix Williams, 36, two friends who dropped off their ballots together, also voted against the recall.

Both said they thought the ability to remove an elected official was important, but the threshold for forcing an election was too low.

“I think the ability is good, but I think the process is too easy,” Mr. Krishnan said.

Both men also dismissed concerns about voting by mail.

Mr. Williams said that disbelief in the election system was troubling: “Just because you don’t believe CNN doesn’t mean YouTube is right.”

Jim Mastrosimone, 52, saw things differently.

Mr. Mastrosimone waited 45 minutes in line with his wife and daughter so they could cast ballots in person. He repeated unsubstantiated claims about voters casting multiple ballots, and he was eager to see Mr. Newsom removed.

He said the state under the governor was headed in the wrong direction, and that taxes and gas prices were too high. He said small businesses suffered while big businesses amassed more wealth.

Mr. Mastrosimone was vaccinated, but he said that he doesn’t believe people should be required to get their shots. Larry Elder, the Republican front-runner, eventually won his support.

Mr. Mastrosimone said he believed the list of replacement candidates was too long, which made it difficult to figure out who to vote for.

But ultimately, he valued the recall system. “It gives the power to the little guy,” he said.

This campaign has laid bare the limitations of California’s recall system, which allows an official to be recalled and then replaced by someone who received far fewer votes. Democratic leaders are already Talking about changes — not eliminating recalls, but modifying the process.

For example, critics have suggested requiring more signatures to get a recall on the ballot, having the lieutenant governor replace a recalled governor, or holding a direct contest between the incumbent and his or her challengers rather than separating the recall into two questions.

Credit…Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press

The last time Californians recalled their governor, in 2003, Mike Murphy was one of the strategists who helped make it happen, bringing a cinematic sense of spectacle to the race that suited both the state and his candidate, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But politically, California was a much different place. “This is a state where a box of hammers with a ‘D’ stamped on it can win,” said Mr. Murphy, who lives in Los Angeles and has worked mostly for the kinds of Republicans who have fallen out of favor with the party’s voters — Jeb Bush, John McCain, former President George H.W. Bush. “That’s where we are.”

Mr. Murphy helped Mr. Schwarzenegger channel voter discontent in 2003, when Californians were unnerved by rolling blackouts and an increase in vehicle registration fees, in contrast to today’s angst over raging wildfires and the government’s coronavirus response.

Mr. Murphy choreographed the Schwarzenegger campaign’s signature stunt that year: dropping a wrecking ball on an old Buick spray-painted with the words “Davis Car Tax.” It was meant as a visual reminder of Mr. Schwarzenegger’s pledge to get rid of the vehicle fee increase put in place by the man he would eventually displace from office, Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat.

“I wanted to blow it up,” Mr. Murphy said in an interview. And even though Mr. Schwarzenegger loved the idea — “Do it! Do it!” Mr. Murphy recalled him saying — they ultimately decided against it, given that the plan was to pull the stunt off at a campaign rally where Schwarzenegger fans could potentially be injured.

Mr. Murphy said that this year, he doubted there was anything Republicans could do — pyrotechnic or otherwise — to lift Larry Elder, the talk radio host and G.O.P. front-runner, over Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“If this were Michigan or another swing state, he’d be in much more trouble,” Mr. Murphy said of the governor. “But he didn’t even get the workout he deserved.

“Trump has just put anthrax in the water here, so it was impossible to clear the field for a viable Republican. That’s the world we’re in with Trump’s Republican Party.”

In the closing days of the race, Democrats framed the recall not as a referendum on Gov. Gavin Newsom, but a referendum on Trumpism. Newsom went as far as portraying the choice as a “matter of life and death.”

I keep wondering what the race would have been like if Kevin Faulconer — the former Republican mayor of San Diego who has played up his work with the city’s Democratic City Council — had been the front-runner to replace Newsom instead of Larry Elder, the conservative radio host. It would have blunted Newsom’s strategy of making the election all about Trump, and possibly forced the campaigns to talk about issues like wildfires or homelessness.

Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York Times

LOS ANGELES — Campaigning together on Monday, President Biden and Gov. Gavin Newsom celebrated California, the country’s most diverse state, as a potent example of multiracial democracy in action.

On the other side of the aisle, issues of race and diversity are similarly at the core of the message being put before voters by Larry Elder, the Republican radio host who is the leading contender to replace Mr. Newsom.

His message is that the United States long ago vanquished racism.

Mr. Elder’s choice of a campaign stop on Monday in Monterey Park, a city in eastern Los Angeles County that is predominantly Asian American and has a sizable Latino population, seemed intended to celebrate diversity. But Mr. Elder, who is Black, also used the visit to argue that systemic racism, which he has called a “lie,” does not exist in America anymore.

“No matter what language we speak, what color we share, even what political stripe we brag about,” Betty Chu, the former mayor of Monterey Park, told Mr. Elder’s supporters, “If it’s an ‘R,’ a ‘D,’ or ‘decline to state,’ the city long stood for anti-hate and bringing people together.”

Ms. Chu said that Mr. Elder’s success as a columnist and radio host, and the fact that he attended public schools and rose to prominence from South Central Los Angeles, were proof “that skin color doesn’t hold you back.”

For many of Mr. Elder’s supporters, especially conservative white voters who say they are tired of hearing about systemic racism after last year’s social unrest following the murder of George Floyd, that message is resonant.

Stacy Hallum, 47, a supporter of Mr. Elder’s who attended his rally on Monday, said she loved the diversity of where she lives, but said that “just because we’re white, we matter too.”

She continued: “I’m so tired of the racism thing. We’re done with racism. I’m not privileged, let me tell you.”

Mr. Elder has often sought to seize on issues of race, describing his policies as ones that will benefit people of color.

On the issue of private versus public education, he has attacked Democrats like Mr. Newsom for sending their children to private school while opposing charter schools and other forms of private or semiprivate education. Mr. Elder said such moves leave public schools to fail their Black and brown students.

“So what they’re afraid of is Larry Elder, from the hood, who attended a public school, is going to break that stranglehold Democrats have over Black and brown parents, specifically over the issue of school choice,” he said at the rally on Monday.

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