Betz Stump, LPC, July 2021
This November, California will see a historic recall election of Gavin Newsom. To initiate a special election, approximately 1.5 million valid voter signatures, or 12 percent of registered California voters, are required. With 2.1 million signatures, Gavin’s recall election garnered over 600,000 more signatures than the minimum. What you may not be aware of is some of the work behind the scenes that was needed to collect the 2.1 million signatures that were submitted by March 17, 2021.
Let’s turn the time machine to 2019. Erin Cruz and Dr. James Veltmeyer both initiated campaigns to recall Gov. Newsom. While Veltmeyer was the one getting all the media interviews on the major networks, he was not actually submitting the signatures he was collecting, He also asked for donations for paid petition signature gatherers. Cruz, on the other hand, ran a 100 percent volunteer-driven recall, and collected almost 300,000 valid signatures total between the required timeframe of September 2019 to February 2020.
Orrin Heatlie, a retired deputy sheriff from Yolo County, headed the third recall attempt, since Veltmeyer withdrew his recall petition and Cruz’s effort fell short in collecting enough valid signatures.
In order to initiate a recall election, one must first apply and be recognized by the respective government agencies that would acknowledge such an effort. Heatlie took his recall paperwork to the California Secretary of State and, once officially recognized, the recall was afoot, starting June 10, 2020, during the middle of the COVID lock-down. A large part of the success of this recall was the volunteer groups who remained in contact with one another via social media. Unlike the Cruz-led recall, during which volunteer groups formed slowly, a significant number of groups were already formed and ready to go in Heatlie’s case. Heatlie brought on administrators to locate additional “lead” volunteers throughout the state, who helped organize volunteers by employing techniques that were found successful during the previous recall. This jump started the initial numbers collected.
Another factor for the success behind the Heatlie-led recall was that it was granted a 120-day extension.As a result of the extra time, the Libertarian Party was able to garner the 1.5 million valid signature minimum to succeed.
Perhaps the best shot in the arm for the recall was when Gavin Newsom went to The French Laundry and was busted for going against COVID rules that he himself had stated. He was photographed sitting elbow to elbow with about 14 people indoors and without masks. None of the people he was dining with were members of his household or family; they were Lobbyists. Breaking ALL the stated rules he was dictating on how Californians could celebrate Thanksgiving, Newsom essentially doubled the Libertarian Party’s signature collection. The number of signatures reached a whopping total of 132 in just one Sunday in January.
Now some of the more technical aspects of the recall is that signatures on a page had to be from one county only. As each page would be turned into a county registrar of voters office, a page was supposed to have only people from that particular county. For example, we would have a clipboard with signatures from Alameda County registered voters only, then we would have another clip board that would be Contra Costa registered voters only, because each page would be sorted, verified, then collated into a pile for that county alone to be submitted to that county’s registrar of voters office. When people would come to drop off filled-out petitions with signatures, we would make sure all the signers were from one county alone, in addition to making sure the witness portion at the bottom was filled out correctly and zip codes included. John Ferrero, Alameda County Coordinator, would often have to mail petitions to people who accidentally “mixed counties,” asking them to fill out the petition again and send back, otherwise it would not be counted, as the registrar of voters offices will not forward those signatures onward to the respective counties.
As for the lead people who led the counties: each county had a “County Coordinator” that helped coordinate volunteers and locate optimal places for people to set up recall booths. The “A.P.” or “Authorized Person” was the person who would collect the signatures gathered and report weekly to the state coordinator. I was A.P. for Alameda County, and John Ferrero, who is also Chair of the Libertarian Party of Alameda County, was County Coordinator for Alameda County. He and I shared a lot of the A.P. duties. As A.P., I was given a letter by Orrin Heatlie naming me as his authorized agent to turn in signed petitions to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters. If you filled out your own petition and tried to deliver it yourself to the registrar of voters office, they would not accept it. Each time I delivered a box of petitions, I brought a copy of this letter naming me A.P., along with a cover letter listing how many “sections” (petitions) and signatures I was submitting. As the recall was extended, there was also a letter citing the extension date and the court case I printed out as well. So each visit to the County R.O.V., I would have a box with signatures, and previously mentioned paperwork. I would then receive stamped copies of my submitted paperwork, along with a receipt by the county listing the numbers of sections and signatures I claimed on the cover sheet. I then mailed these stamped papers and receipt off to the state coordinator, Susan Hurd.
The final aspect as to why this recall was a success was that, besides being a volunteer driven effort with people passionate to oust Newsom, donations from people helped pay for the recall to pay a third party, a company called GOCO Consulting out of Hanford, to verify a majority of the signatures collected. They had voter rolls from all 58 California counties in which to check against. Based on feedback from GOCO, we were receiving an 83% validity rate: To get 1,495,000 valid signatures, we would have to submit, at a minimum, 1,810,000 signatures to compensate for the 17% invalid rate: duplicates, people who were not registered voters, people who filled out the form incorrectly, or some other form filling error. The process was: We would collect a batch of signatures, collecting signatures from not only our county, but from other counties as well – keeping track of how many signatures from each county, then ship them to GOCO. GOCO would then verify them, send them back to each respective county, just that county’s petitions. Alameda County would receive only the Alameda County signatures, even when we were sending pages off that had signatures for other counties. We would have a count from GOCO how many petitions and signatures were in a box, then I would bring my aforementioned paperwork, and submit to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters Office in the county building in downtown Oakland. Drops were about once a month, and during the last month, weekly.