In California a recall election of Gavin Newsom is underway. If he resigned during the voting, would the election be called off? Would the Lt. Governor become the Governor?

If so, how late into the process could Newsom resign?

Also, if Newsom lost the recall vote, would there be any credible legal appeal?

3 Answers 3


Section 11302 of the California Elections Code makes it crystal clear - as soon as an office becomes vacant, the recall election proceeds anyway, unless as of that moment there are not enough signatures to proceed to the vote. So the resignation tactic can only be used to stop a recall election while they are still in the signature-gathering phase - it will not work if they have already gotten enough signatures.

California's recall law as it applies to statewide elected officials is, frankly, idiotic (it should be like an impeachment, next officer in line gets the post), but it is designed specifically to stop a shenanigan like you describe. The Lieutenant Governor would become Governor if Newsom resigned, but only subject to the results of the Recall - if Newsom is recalled (despite already having resigned), the person with the plurality on part two of the ballot would become the next Governor.


The recall ballot has two parts: removal of the governor, and selection of a replacement. If the governor resigns before the election, the Lt. Governor replaces him per the California Constitution, and the recall election is moot (it's hard to say whether it could actually be stopped, since that depends on how far in advance he resigns). If he resigns during or immediately after the election, before the election results are finalized, the Lt. Governor would become the governor when the office shall have become vacant (when the resignation is effective). The state constitution and Government or Elections code do not say what happens if (a) the governor resigns on election day and (b) is recalled and replaced. Although he will not be governor, you could envision two outcomes – the Lt. Governor is now governor (following the Constitution), or the elected successor becomes governor (following the recall-election law). Since the Constitution is the supreme law of the state, it is most likely that constitutional succession would prevail.


So the "recall" is just a vote for a new Governor. If he resigns, his Lt. Governor would be running in his place against the slate of candidates and would be Governor until the election and potential change of power occurs. Resignation can occur at any time in the process.

As to legal appeals, they would be available such that he has a right to contest the election in courts. Whether or not he is correct to contest is another matter.

  • 2
    The idea that the recall is "just a vote for a new governor" seems to disagree with the wording of the ballot questions themselves.
    – Sneftel
    Aug 10, 2021 at 13:41
  • 1
    This appears to be incorrect, since the governor cannot be a replacement candidate and if he resigned the lieutenant governor would also not be a candidate. Aug 10, 2021 at 16:17
  • @jeffronicus can you give a citation for that? All the sources I heard have said the exact opposite. They said that both in the case of this and the last recall election, the sitting governor was eligible to run.
    – grovkin
    Aug 14, 2021 at 4:18
  • @grovkin California Elections Code 11381 (c): No person whose recall is being sought may be a candidate to succeed himself or herself at a recall election nor to succeed any other member of the same governing board whose recall is being sought at the same election. leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/…. Aug 14, 2021 at 4:56
  • @grovkin Plus, I can look at my sample ballot and see that Newsom isn't one of the candidates I can vote for. Aug 14, 2021 at 5:01

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