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California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

Current time in California: Sept. 14, 4:16 p.m.

ImageLarry Elder campaigning in Monterey Park on Monday.
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.

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

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.

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

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.

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

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.

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

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.

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

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.

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

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.

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

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.”

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

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.”

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

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.

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

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.

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

Even with the high vote-by-mail and early turnout, polling places in the southern parts of Orange County — very Republican — were busy. If you had dropped me at the Mission Viejo civic center with no context, I would have guessed this was a regular election day, not a special election in September.

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

In 2003, Republican strategist Mike Murphy helped Arnold Schwarzenegger oust a Democratic governor. How does he think the electorate has changed since then? “This is a state where a box of hammers with a ‘D’ stamped on it can win,” he told me. “That’s where we are.”

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

Video

transcript

transcript

California Residents Head to the Polls in Recall Election

Voters across California cast their ballots in a recall election to decide the political fate of Gov. Gavin Newsom. The Democrat’s main challenge is from the Republican candidate Larry Elder.

“Well, it’s always important to vote no matter what to exercise your rights. But today is particularly important because I’m not sure that everybody understands the consequences for not voting. You know, if we recall Governor Newsom, who knows who we end up with.” “Personally, I think that we need change in California. You know, I’ve been born and raised here, and the state has been in decline for the last five or so years.” “The option, unfortunately, is a very extremist conservative, and I don’t believe in the values that he imposes on women. I don’t believe in the values that he has to impose his beliefs on the American people.” “Larry Elder seems to have all the issues — what’s going on, what needs to be addressed. And I wish him the best today, I pray he gets in, and like I said, I’m a Democrat and — I — Gavin needs to go.” “I just think there is no reason for the recall. I think the job he’s doing is the best job that he could do.”

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Voters across California cast their ballots in a recall election to decide the political fate of Gov. Gavin Newsom. The Democrat’s main challenge is from the Republican candidate Larry Elder.CreditCredit…Ryan Young for The New York Times

With false allegations of voter fraud trailing the California recall election, we checked in with Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who oversees the state’s elections, about how voting has progressed and how her office is dealing with efforts to undermine faith in the contest. The interview has been lightly edited and condensed.

How is voting going?

We’ve seen over eight million ballots mailed back thus far, which is a very significant number of ballots coming in. So that in itself is rather exciting, as well as ballots still being dropped off at the ballot boxes this morning.

We’ve had folks calling all of our hotlines asking where their polling places are or looking for additional information. It’s clear that people are interested in voting today.

Why have people been calling the hotlines?

Sometimes people have familiar polling places that they used to go to forever and now they’ve changed. We’ve had a couple of calls saying, “Where is it now?”

Credit…Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

We’ve had folks who couldn’t find their ballots — misplaced them after they came in the mail. And we’ve had folks who left the state for a bit and wonder how can they still vote, those kinds of things.

But we’ve had no long lines, no folks waiting. We have a wait time of zero right now.

Any other hitches today?

We’ve seen small things. One polling place opening 10 minutes late, that kind of stuff.

Because of the fires, we’ve had some folks who moved away from their places. So we have to deal with that issue. We had one county the telephones were not servicing. We’ve just adapted and adjusted to every little new thing that comes along. But we haven’t had anything that’s been a major shutdown.

For those facing difficulties because of the wildfires, what else have you done?

We have made sure that all of those who were in the fire zones got their mail-in ballots.

We made sure that those who had to leave or who’ve lost their homes, that they had access to voting in various other ways, in terms of being able to go to another county to vote, making sure they had their mail-in ballots, making sure they knew where the ballot boxes were in other counties or other areas. So we have made outreach to all of those who might have been affected by any fire or any kind of tragedy.

We also set up remote mobile voting for our firefighters to make sure that those who are away from their homes had access to vote.

How are you preparing your office for the claims and possible litigation of election fraud that Republicans say they may bring?

I think the whole discussion of fraud across the nation kind of gives us a preview of what people will do. They may file various lawsuits. We know that they have been trying to collect information — they set up a website saying, ‘If you see any irregularities, show us your irregularities.’ And, you know, people go to court, and thus far across the nation, they’ve lost because there is no widespread fraud in the election process. But whether they decide to go to court or not, we will be there to defend the process.

We know that they will always talk about the fact that it was a stolen election or fraud, — or there’s a new term, “shenanigans.” We have no evidence of that, and when we’ve had allegations of any type, especially if there’s any specific information, we investigated. And as most folks have found across the nation, there is no there there.

So we’re not totally freaking out. We’re just making sure that everything we do is correct by the book. That we’ve taken our time to make sure that there’s transparency. And thus far, we’ve not found anything ourselves.

Are there extra steps of transparency that you’ve taken in this hyperpartisan era when the process itself is contested?

We do what we’ve always done. This is a unique election as a recall. But keep in mind, we’ve had four or five elections this year, special elections, as well as last November.

Anytime we discover something that might be an area of concern, we do our best to make sure that we shore that up. If we discover that somebody is complaining that the signs are too small, they couldn’t really see a sign at a voting booth, we try to make sure that next time, we do more. If folks feel disenfranchised because of language, if there’s enough folks in that community, we make sure that we increase the number of languages and make sure that those languages are clear.

And so it’s not like we are gearing up because Mr. Elder says something or someone else says something. We are aware that the question of fraud or questions of transparency are constant. And, as I travel to different registrars’ offices, I see them responding to different issues, like making sure that there’s space that people can observe the opening of ballots.

When I was in one area, they had basically created pathways for folks to be able to do that. So those are the kinds of things that we respond to all the time to make sure that those who want to build issues of transparency and fairness have an opportunity to do so.

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

If Gov. Gavin Newsom does get ousted, the leading candidate to replace him is Larry Elder, an AM radio fixture for millions of Californians fed up with liberal Democratic politics. Leaders in both parties aren’t exactly happy.

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

Voter turnout for the recall appears high by nearly any standard other than the 2020 presidential election. Already, nearly twice as many people have returned ballots as cast votes in total in the last California gubernatorial recall election in 2003, when the Democrat Gray Davis was replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

Credit…Fred Greaves/Reuters

This is what I keep thinking about: If Gov. Gavin Newsom had been spotted on the patio of a tiny neighborhood bistro just after urging California residents to stay home last November, we might not be blogging about a recall today.

Instead, Mr. Newsom was seen at The French Laundry, attending the birthday dinner of Sacramento lobbyist Jason Kinney. The images of him hobnobbing with guests, indoors, without a mask on, at one of the country’s most expensive restaurants, were immediately and powerfully symbolic.

The chef Thomas Keller took over the Yountville restaurant in the mid-90s and defined that era’s American fine-dining sensibility, equal parts playful and extravagant. Reservations were (and continue to be) impossible. Dishes such as the silky tuna tartare, held in a tiny, crisp cone, were (and continue to be) widely replicated, though most restaurants simply can’t replicate the atmosphere — the lush gardens, the perfume of fresh black truffles, the perfectly pressed uniforms.

As a line cook in my 20s, I studied the recipes and photographs in The French Laundry cookbook, hoping its knowledge would transfer to me, reading and rereading it so many times that the pages became soft and worn at the edges. But not long before Governor Newsom attended that private party, fueling support for the recall, I wrote about how a meal there felt a bit like sneaking onto an opulent spaceship, orbiting a burning planet. I was uncomfortable with its excess.

The restaurant’s luxurious ingredients, meticulous techniques and impeccable, formal service appeared as a kind of culinary anachronism. The 10-course tasting menu cost about $350 per person, and, during the pandemic, the restaurant started private indoor dining at $850 per person.

It’s no surprise the restaurant has become such an essential part of the recall narrative. Dinner at The French Laundry isn’t so much dinner anymore as it is a status symbol, like macaroni and cheese served in a giant golden egg.

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — In Jose Orbeta’s opinion, the entire recall election is a “waste of time.”

“It’s a power grab by the G.O.P.,” said Mr. Orbeta, a 50-year-old Department of Public Health employee. He voted to keep Gov. Gavin Newsom in office, saying he had done a “decent job” leading California through the pandemic despite his “lapse of judgment” in dining at the French Laundry during the height of the outbreak.

Mr. Orbeta was one of many voters to cite Mr. Newsom’s handling of the coronavirus in voting to keep him in office.

Over 80 percent of eligible residents have been vaccinated in the heavily Democratic San Francisco, which along with the surrounding Bay Area was one of the first places to shut down in March 2020.

“A lot of California got out in front of it, and acting early was helpful,” said Wayne Losey, 54, who was voting in Chinatown before dropping his daughter off at school. Many voters said that while they had concerns about Mr. Newsom — “not progressive enough,” in the opinion of Rebecca Foster, a Mission resident, or “a little corporate,” as Mr. Losey put it — the alternative, Larry Elder, was worse.

Lachlan Ashenmiller, 22, was put off by Mr. Elder’s support for eliminating the minimum wage and his suggestion that slave owners, not descendants of slaves, could be owed reparations. “I’m not a huge Newsom fan, but I don’t want Elder,” said Mr. Ashenmiller, who said he got his information from friends posting infographics on Instagram and journalists he follows on Twitter.

But a few voters said they were supporting Mr. Elder in the recall. They pointed to local issues, like homelessness, in explaining their vote: “Filthy, nasty, crime rate’s up,” Patrick Harris, 53, said of his Tenderloin neighborhood.

At City Hall, bright blue tents signaling ballot drop-off sites dotted Civic Center Plaza. Volunteers played music and passed around a pink bakery box full of sesame balls. “Better late than never!” said one voter, pulling up in a silver Subaru Forester to drop off her ballot. “You’re not late,” replied Nate Orman, a public-school teacher volunteering at the drop-off site. “You’re right on time.”

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

With more than nine million ballots already cast early or by mail, Californians, from Mendocino County to Monterey Park, came out to cast their votes and determine Gov. Gavin Newsom’s fate. In Laytonville, the local Lions Club served as a voting center.

People lined up to vote outside the Central Library in Huntington Beach in Orange County, while election workers delivered registrar supplies. Richard Thompson, an assistant election manager, prepared for Election Day in the Redwood Playhouse in Garberville, Calif.; and one voter in Anaheim was accompanied by her young child as she cast a ballot in the recall election.

Statewide, some 13 million ballots were left to be cast or postmarked on Election Day, but the race was expected to have high turnout overall for an off-year election.

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

California has long cast itself as a leader in the fight against global warming, with more solar panels and electric cars than anywhere else in the nation. But the state’s ambitious climate policies now face their biggest reckoning to date in Tuesday’s recall election.

Many of the candidates vying to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom have sharply criticized California’s aggressive plans to slash planet-warming emissions, arguing that they are driving up costs across the state. Larry Elder, the main Republican challenger, has said that “global warming alarmism is a crock” and that he “intends to stop the war on oil and gas.”

Mr. Newsom, for his part, has insisted that California can’t afford to ignore the threat of global warming, particularly in the midst of yet another devastating wildfire season. He has vowed to speed up efforts to cut the state’s emissions, with plans to ban sales of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035 and restrict oil and gas drilling.

The outcome of the election could have nationwide implications for efforts to tackle global warming, given California’s vast size and influence. The state has long pioneered major climate policies, such as laws to bolster renewable energy or electric vehicles, that have later been copied by other states.

Any new governor would be unlikely to overturn many of California’s key climate laws, not least because the legislature would remain under Democratic control. But, experts said, that could still leave room for major changes. A new governor could, for instance, rescind Mr. Newsom’s order to phase out new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035 or his push to restrict oil and gas drilling, since those were issued by executive order. And any governor would also have broad influence over agency appointments and in shaping how existing climate laws are implemented.

“There’s the real potential for a huge shift in direction,” said Richard Frank, a professor of environmental law at the University of California, Davis. “California has had substantial influence over the direction of climate policy both nationally and internationally, and that could easily wane.”

On Monday, President Biden visited California to campaign for Mr. Newsom and to survey the damage from the state’s recent wildfires. While Mr. Biden highlighted the role of climate change in fueling larger fires, he left unsaid a second part: If California does decide to shift course on climate policy, it will be much harder for the president to fulfill his promises of cutting greenhouse gas emissions across the country.

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

Credit…Frederic J. Brown/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A temporary change in California’s election rules aimed at protecting voters during the coronavirus pandemic could be instrumental in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s effort to beat back a proposed recall — and could become permanent if the governor signs a bill that state lawmakers passed on Sept. 2.

Voting by mail has emerged as a critical factor in the Republican-led recall, which political experts say will probably hinge on whether Mr. Newsom, a Democrat, can incite turnout in the state’s enormous base of liberal voters before the polls close on Sept. 14.

Because of the coronavirus, lawmakers ensured that ballots would automatically be mailed to every registered, active voter, turning an already popular option into the default through at least the end of this year.

As a result, political experts tracking returns in the recall are predicting that at least 50 percent of registered voters will cast ballots, roughly double the turnout that would be expected in a special election.

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

Credit…Allison Zaucha for The New York Times

LADERA RANCH, Calif. — At the Oak Knoll Village Clubhouse, deep in the affluent suburbs of southern Orange County, a steady stream of late model crossover S.U.V.s parked in the lot at 9 a.m.

The vote center is nestled in an enormous sprawl of Spanish Mission and Tuscan-inspired tract mansions where supporters of former President Donald J. Trump have rallied in the past.

Lindsay Henry, 41, dropped off her ballot with her 19-year-old son, Tyler, at the Oak Knoll Village clubhouse in Ladera Ranch.

While her son voted for the recall, she said she voted against it.

“I’m definitely not a Gavin fan,” she said. “I just think it’s a waste of money if we’re going to have to do this again next year.”

Both mother and son chose Anthony Trimino, “a Laderian” they know personally, on the second question.

“He’s very faith-based and generous,” Ms. Henry said.

“He’s a good speaker,” her son added.

Candice Carvalho, 42, cast her ballot against the recall because, she said, “I thought it was important to show that Orange County isn’t just Republicans.”

She expressed frustration that the recall was taking so much attention at a critical moment in the pandemic.

“It was a waste of money and completely unnecessary,” she said. “And I’m a little shocked we’re focusing on this now.”

Ms. Carvalho said she doesn’t know much about the specifics of the recall law, but “it seems slightly too easy to put this recall on.”

A handful of voters heading into the polls said they were supporting the recall.

Leslie Geer, 39, who wore a flowered tennis skirt, was among them. The teaching assistant and mother of three said she wanted to vote in person because she was worried about mail-in ballot fraud.

She planned to vote for Larry Elder, who she said she listened to growing up, because he planned to lift vaccine mandates.

But, she said, “anyone would be better than Gavin Newsom,” who she blamed for poverty, homelessness and high taxes.

“We just need a fresh start,” she said.

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York Times

MONTEREY PARK, Calif. — In Larry Elder’s California, the streets are awash in criminals, homeless people are running rampant, schools are failing and if it weren’t for poor management of forests — rather than climate change — the wildfire crisis wouldn’t exist.

“We’ve got rising crime, rising homelessness, an outrageous rise in the cost of living, declining public school standards,” Mr. Elder, the conservative radio host who is the leading contender to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom if the recall effort succeeds, said in a speech on Monday. “We have five seasons here in California. The fifth one is the fire season. And that’s because of the poor management of our forests.”

At Mr. Elder’s campaign events in Los Angeles County on Monday — the last on his schedule, save for a “victory party” Tuesday night at a hotel in Orange County — there seemed to be nearly as many journalists in attendance as supporters. He spoke in Monterey Park, at a hilltop park in San Pedro, with the Pacific Ocean and the Port of Los Angeles in the background, and dropped in during lunch time at Philippe the Original, famous for its French dip sandwiches.

In remarks outside City Hall in Monterey Park, a city in the eastern part of Los Angeles County that is majority Asian American, Mr. Elder sought to harness anger among conservatives and others over Mr. Newsom’s coronavirus shutdowns last year, and linked that issue with another that Mr. Elder has highlighted and run on: the failure of public schools, which were largely closed down last year in favor of remote learning, and support for school choice.

“As Gavin Newsom sat at the French Laundry restaurant with the very people that drafted the mandates that they were violating, they weren’t wearing masks, they weren’t engaging in social distancing, Gavin Newsom’s own kids were enjoying in-person private education,” he told a gathering of several dozen supporters, referring to a dinner Mr. Newsom, unmasked, attended last year at a wine country restaurant, an episode that energized the recall movement.

Taking a page from former President Donald Trump’s playbook, Mr. Elder’s campaign has also sought to stoke fears of rising crime and has portrayed the conservative radio host as someone who can restore “law and order.”

During the campaign, Mr. Elder has suggested if he loses he might blame voter fraud, just as Mr. Trump falsely did. On Monday, though, he didn’t take the bait when asked if he would accept the results if he loses (polls show that Mr. Newsom is likely to win.)

“Yes, because I’m going to win,” he told reporters in San Pedro. “I’ll be very happy with the results. I anticipate winning, so there won’t be a question about the results because I’m going to win.”

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York Times

YORBA LINDA, Calif. — Sue Vonidstein, a 61-year-old former business owner, said she could not remember whether she had voted for Gov. Gavin Newsom when he first ran in 2018. An independent in one of the most conservative parts of Orange County, Ms. Vonidstein had voted for Democrats in the past. But as soon as she heard about the recall, she was certain she would try to vote Mr. Newsom out of office.

“He’s not acting like a governor, he’s acting like a dictator,” she said, pointing to his pandemic restrictions and support of vaccine mandates. “There are other governors allowing people to make their own choices. There aren’t people falling down dead on the street.”

Just a few miles away from Richard Nixon’s birthplace, voters lined up at a Yorba Linda park at a steady clip, many there at the urging of Republican leaders who had told them, without evidence, that casting a ballot by mail was less secure.

“We’ve gotten a governor out of office before — we can do it again, and we should do it again,” Ms. Vonidstein said, adding that she strongly opposed any change to the recall system, which has been widely criticized.

“We elect them, and if they are not doing a good job, we should be able to remove them, just like a business.”

For Jose Zenon, a Republican who runs an event-planning business with his wife, it is both the pandemic restrictions and the high taxes that infuriate him. Like other opponents of Mr. Newsom, he pointed to examples of his friends leaving for other states, such as Texas, Arizona and Nevada.

“That train out of here is really long, and we might be getting on it, too,” he said, just after voting for Larry Elder, the Republican front-runner and conservative talk-radio host. “The rules this governor made put a lot of businesses in an impossible position — we were without income for 10 months. Here we live in a condo, we want to have a home, but it’s just impossible. Something’s got to change.”

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

Credit…Mike Blake/Reuters

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — If Frankie Santos could have scrawled “Absolutely no” to recalling Gov. Gavin Newsom on her ballot without invalidating her vote, she would have done so, she said.

“This recall is so dumb. It’s so not a good use of resources,” said the 43-year-old artist after voting at Plummer Park in Hollywood.

Ms. Santos said that she was among those who would favor changing the process to eliminate the possibility of a small group “so easily,” in her view, triggering a recall to remove a governor from office.

She is part of a growing chorus of people in the state calling for California’s system of direct democracy to be reformed.

To put a recall on the ballot, supporters must collect signatures equivalent to only 12 percent of all the votes cast in the last election for governor, the least of any state in which a governor can be removed by a recall vote.

The state has allowed recall elections since 1911, and every governor in the last six decades has faced a recall effort. Two, including the effort against Mr. Newsom, have qualified for the ballot. Gray Davis, a Democrat, was removed from office in 2003 and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.

A few feet from the polling station, typing on his laptop under the shade of a tree, was Jacob Sainz, who said he had voted “Definitely no” to recalling Mr. Newsom. He lamented that 1.5 million signatures were all it took to force an expensive election to take place.

“The governor’s almost at the end of his term,” said Mr. Sainz, a 28-year-old brand manager. “It’s a waste of money. A big waste of money.”

Plus, he noted, “I don’t disagree with most of his policies.”

Mr. Newsom is likely to survive the recall, according to polls. But not all voters in the area, the heart of a large Russian immigrant community, felt the campaign was for naught.

Dmitriy Belyavskiy emerged from the voting site decked out in a Trump 2020 cap, Trump wristband and a mask inscribed with “All aboard the Trump train.”

“Newsom is a big jerk. He destroyed California,” declared Mr. Belyavskiy, 45, a chess and history tutor who said that he had served in the U.S. Army after immigrating to the United States when he was 19.

His voice bristling with contempt, he listed grievances that he felt justified recalling the governor. “Illegal immigrants swarming in and stealing low-paying jobs; crazy taxes; high gas prices; the homeless crisis; crime,” he said.

Mr. Belyavskiy said he had voted “loud and proud” for Larry Elder, the top Republican contender.

California Recall Live Updates: With Gavin Newsom’s Future at Stake, Voting Unfolds Smoothly

Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

This recall election has revealed something of a paradox among Californians: We hold dear our ability to recall elected leaders from office but believe the process by which we do so to be deeply flawed. In recent weeks, there have been a growing number of calls to reform the state’s recall laws.

As of July, two-thirds of Californians thought the process was ripe for change, according to a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.

But changing it is a difficult two-step process that includes amendments to the State Constitution.

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