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Mask mandates and pandemic lockdowns spurred the recall vote in California

Los Angeles (AFP) - Californians voted overwhelmingly to keep their Democratic governor Tuesday, roundly rejecting a Republican attempt to unseat him in a special recall vote spurred by mask mandates and Covid lockdowns.

Gavin Newsom handily survived an effective confidence vote that could have seen him replaced by a Republican with only minority support in one of the most liberal parts of the United States.

With more than 60 percent of the votes tallied, NBC and CNN both said that Newsom was set to prevail, having secured around two-thirds of ballots.

Millions voted by mail, allowing quick counting of valid votes soon after polls closed at 8 PM Pacific Time .

Newsom had proudly boasted that he was following the science in ordering Californians to stay at home during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But entrepreneurs blamed him for suffocating their businesses with his rules, and parents chaffed at keeping their children home from school.

The vote had been eagerly watched by politicians across the deeply-divided country as a possible indicator of how incumbents who listened to doctors -- instead of angry constituents -- would fare at the ballot box.

Newsom's main opponent was Larry Elder, 69, a right-wing talk radio star who has spoken proudly of his support for ex-president Donald Trump.

Before polls even closed, Elder took a page out of Trump's 2020 election playbook, launching a website alleging voter fraud and demanding state officials "investigate and ameliorate the twisted results" of the election.

The ballot was a two part referendum, with the first asking if 53-year-old Newsom should stay in office.

The second, which only came into play if a majority wanted him out, asked which of 46 candidates should take his place.

Traditional politicians vied with a YouTube star, a "Billboard Queen" and Kardashian clan member Caitlyn Jenner for the spoils.

'Get Rid Of Newsom'

The recall initiative, which has cost the state some $280 million, is one of 55 such efforts to depose a governor in state history.

Mostly they have gone nowhere, but pandemic measures Newsom imposed gave this attempt legs.

The petition to remove him gathered pace after he was snapped having dinner at a swanky restaurant, seemingly in breach of his own Covid-19 rules, fueling a perception he was an out-of-touch hypocrite.

Mary Beth, a 63-year-old business owner who cast her ballot Tuesday in Los Angeles, said she voted to "get rid of Newsom" because "the virus created chaos in our economy but he made it even worse with his lockdowns."

"There were other ways to handle that and he should have made businesses the priority," she said.

Another pro-recall voter told AFP he wanted someone who would not impose vaccine mandates -- a hot button issue throughout the divided United States.

"I feel very strongly that we need to get rid of our governor because I think he's just a corrupt Democrat, like the people we have in the federal government and we need them out," said Farid Efraim.

"We need somebody who really represents the people."

Democrats complain the Republican-led recall was an attempt to hijack the state's government: seizing power in extraordinary circumstances when they could never do it in a regular ballot.

A poll by Spectrum News and IPSOS published before results were announced found two-thirds of registered voters viewed the recall as a political power grab.

'Recall Is Ridiculous'

California's electoral rules set the recall bar low.

Malcontents need only gather signatures equivalent to 12 percent of the number of people who voted in the last election -- in this case, 1.5 million.

California's population is around 40 million.

"This whole recall is ridiculous," said Jake, a 38-year-old tech industry worker, who preferred not to give his last name.

"I did the math and even if every registered voter turns out, it would cost more than $12 per vote," he said.

"A lot of people could have had a breakfast with that this morning."

Vance Hagins said the recall process was an abuse.

"You have 40 people running for governor, half of them are nuts and have no chance at all of winning, yet their names are on the ballot, wasting our time," he said.

The only successful California recall brought bodybuilder-turned-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger to office in 2003.

"The Governator," who ended up running the state for more than seven years, was California's last Republican chief executive.

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

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Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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