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California Recall: State Legislators Call for Reform in Wake of Expensive Recall Election

SACRAMENTO (KPIX) -- A day after California voters resoundingly rejected the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom, two state lawmakers are pushing to fix what they call a broken recall system.

Assemblymember Marc Berman and State Senator Steve Glazer are leading the charge to reform the recall process.

The price tag for California's recall election was $276 million, according to the state's Department of Finance.

Ultimately, the state's odd laws allowed for an election that wasn't close to be held, at enormous expense, just 14 months before Newsom would have been on the ballot for reelection anyway.

"A $276 million waste just to reaffirm 2018's results with an election coming in 2022," California Assembly Speaker Pro Temp Kevin Mullin tweeted Tuesday night.

Glazer and Berman said all that money was spent just for a majority of voters to confirm what they'd already said back in 2018. The two lawmakers say they're open to any and all ideas, but are very adamant about making sure to get bipartisan engagement with any reform.

They call the state's recall process a manipulation and are looking at possible provisions to make for a more clear and defined procedure. Currently, California is one of 19 states that allow voters to remove state officials before the end of their term.

No reason is necessary to initiate a recall; the only requirement to put a recall on the ballot is gathering enough voter signatures. The total number of signatures must be 12% of voters in the last election for the office and must include voters in at least five counties.

Both Glazer and Berman say the requirements are too vague and there needs to be more accountability. They say they're ready to talk about the best conclusion to help build public trust again given the current poisonous political climate.

"They don't want the partisan manipulation that allows a small minority to force an election and have a candidate prevail with less than a majority vote. That is anti-democratic," said Glazer.

"The process is as important as the policy," explained Berman. "So it's important that we have a transparent process and that we bring together a bipartisan group of experts and stakeholders and colleagues, and have that conversation with the public as well."

Mullin said reforms should include elevating the lieutenant governor to the state's chief executive position if a governor is successfully recalled, rather than having voters choose a replacement on the same ballot.

Even with public opinion in favor of reform, changing the state constitution is complicated.

"The recall is actually embedded in our constitution," said San Jose State University Political Science Professor Donna Crane. "It's not just a statute, so it can't be changed with a simple vote from the legislature. There are a couple different avenues. Naturally, this process is not simple."

Either the legislature would have to draw up new laws before getting voters to sign off on them, or there would have to be an entirely citizen-lead effort like a ballot initiative. And for either of those options to work, there would first have to be agreement on the reforms themselves. Some have suggested certain standards for when the recall could be invoked.

"Like some kind of professional malfeasance, or criminal activity," Crane said. "Unfitness for office, a health crisis where they won't leave, or something like that."

The other relatively simple change would be adjusting the signature requirement for a recall.

"I think changing the signature requirement to be more in conformity with what we find in other states," said Stanford University Professor Bruce Cain. "Many states have 25%. That might be a little high. Certainly going up to 20% might make a difference."

But larger changes, like dumping the second part of the ballot for replacement by the Lieutenant Governor, would move the discussion into far more complex legal territory.

"Do all that and you're probably getting very close to a court challenge. Because that probably should go through a constitutional revision commission," explained Cain.

So reform itself could quickly become the next political fight, one born from California's larger political dysfunction, and that is the state's lopsided politics.

"It's not just that the recall option has become attractive for the GOP," Crane said. "It's really become their only practical way to win a statewide office."

"It doesn't help the republican party," Cain adds. "The republican party has to figure out how to win a real election, not to win by gaming the rules and trying to win with 28% of the vote."

© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten. CNN contributed to this report.

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