By Jeremy B. White, Debra Kahn, POLITICO PRO

April 8, 2021

Pending state ballot initiatives will go before voters in 2022 as planned rather than during a likely 2021 recall election, according to campaign representatives who have heard from elections officials.

Multiple ballot initiatives have qualified or are in the final signature verification process, including measures to overhaul plastics recycling, amend a medical malpractice cap and discard a ban on flavored tobacco. But a likely vote to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom injected uncertainty into the initiative campaigns’ timelines.

Campaign operatives wondered if the secretary of state’s office might move up the initiative votes so they would occur at the same time as a Newsom recall vote, which will likely occur in the fall, but the secretary of state’s office notified campaigns their initiatives will go to the 2022 ballot as planned.

The secretary of state’s office did not immediately confirm that notification Thursday.

Why it matters: Assuming the Newsom recall qualifies for a vote, as it looks almost certain to do, an unusual off-year election could have lower turnout than a general contest in 2022. A new law requiring elections officials to mail every eligible and active voter a ballot could somewhat offset that expected decline.

Some observers believe coinciding ballot initiatives with the recall could bring out more voters. But initiative campaign officials warn moving up a vote would shorten their timeline to appeal to voters or to strike deals with the Legislature and withdraw initiatives.

“The team behind the plastics ballot measure was pretty confident that the voters would support the initiative on either ballot, but it’s nice to have certainty for purposes of planning our campaign,” said Nick Lapis of Californians Against Waste, which is spearheading the plastics measure along with Recology.

Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court was blunter, telling POLITICO “everyone who has a ballot measure doesn’t want anything to do with this recall ballot.”

“I think it’s good news for us because we didn’t want to face an angry electorate that wasn’t out to do some good but was out to basically take down the governor,” said Court, whose organization is pushing to increase the amount of possible malpractice payouts. “Our best bet is with the traditional Democratic electorate and I just don’t know they will participate” in the recall, Court added.

2003 recall history: Few may remember that California's only gubernatorial recall election in 2003 featured two ballot measures. Proposition 53 was placed on the ballot by the Legislature to increase California's general fund spending on infrastructure. Proposition 54 was an initiative led by Republican businessman and activist Ward Connerly to stop the state and local governments from collecting race-based data and classifying students, contractors and workers on the basis of race.

Despite relatively high turnout for an off-year election, 2003 voters overwhelmingly rejected both proposals by nearly an identical share of 64 percent opposed.

What's next: The medical malpractice initiative and flavored tobacco referendum have already qualified, while county registrars are conducting their final signature reviews for initiatives on a plastics overhaul and sports betting. Counties will wrap up their gubernatorial recall signature counts by April 29.