California Gov. Gavin Newsom will remain in office

By Veronica Rocha, Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner, Maureen Chowdhury, Mike Hayes and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 8:07 a.m. ET, September 15, 2021
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11:26 p.m. ET, September 14, 2021

More than 50% of the estimated vote is in. Here's where things stand in California's recall election.

More than 50% of the estimated vote is in California's recall election and the question over whether California Gov. Gavin Newsom should be removed from office is on the ballot.

So far, the “no” vote – rejecting Newsom's removal has an early lead.

Newsom's team was projecting confidence as the finish line came into view Tuesday night, with one top adviser telling CNN they "could be headed for record turnout" in a statewide special election. That would be a clear advantage for the Democratic governor in this overwhelmingly blue state.

CNN has not yet made a projection in the race.

CNN's Maeve Reston and Gregory Krieg contributed reporting to this post. 

11:11 p.m. ET, September 14, 2021

"No" vote on California recall has early lead in CNN exit poll

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to union workers and volunteers on election day at the IBEW Local 6 union hall on Tuesday in San Francisco.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to union workers and volunteers on election day at the IBEW Local 6 union hall on Tuesday in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

While CNN is not yet able to make a projection, the “no” vote – rejecting the removal of California Gov. Gavin Newsom – has an early lead in CNN’s exit poll.

If that lead holds, he will retain his job as governor of California.

11:14 p.m. ET, September 14, 2021

Polls are now closed in California's recall election

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

The polls have closed in California, where voters are deciding whether to remove Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom from office. The first returns are expected soon.

If a majority of voters vote “yes” to the recall, he’ll be out of office and the top vote-getter on the ballot’s second question – about who should replace Newsom – will take over.

The effort to oust Newsom, who was elected in 2018, was launched last year by conservative Californians critical of the governor's record on multiple issues. The effort gained steam after criticism of Newsom’s handling of the pandemic. 

Newsom was the first governor to implement a stay-at-home order as the coronavirus spread unabated, a move later repeated in many other states. As the pandemic-induced restrictions implemented to quell the spread of the virus wore on frustrated residents, the recall movement picked up when Newsom visited Napa’s swanky French Laundry restaurant for a birthday party, a move he later called “a mistake.”

Conservative radio show host Larry Elder, Newsom’s leading challenger, campaigned on what he called Newsom’s “abject failure” in handling the Covid-19 crisis, and believes a strong showing of in-person voters will carry him to victory. Elder is one of 46 candidates vying to replace Newsom, including former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, and the man Newsom beat in the 2018 election, John Cox.

There have been many attempts to recall governors throughout California’s storied political history, yet only once has the move been successful. In 2003, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was removed from office and replaced with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.

If Newsom retains his position as the leader of the most populous state in the nation, he will face a reelection contest next year. 

The recall election is expected to cost California more than $270 million.

11:07 p.m. ET, September 14, 2021

California election official outlines security procedures of voting process

From CNN's Josh Campbell in San Francisco

Despite a barrage of election conspiracy theories, California election officials have actually been working for months to ensure the security and integrity of the voting process. 

San Francisco's director of elections described for CNN the rigorous security procedures involved. By-mail and in-person voting systems contain extensive transaction logs that monitor each part of the scanning and tabulation process. After Election Day, officials conduct a manual tally of ballots to ensure results match official records. 

The elections director also said ballot images are posted online after the election to ensure transparency with the public. 

On election night, two sheriff deputies are assigned to escort ballots and digital memory cards from each of the 580 polling locations to the city's main processing center. 

"There are so many steps and so many processes and so many people involved in upholding the sanctity of an election and ensuring the election runs according to how people would expect them to be run," the official said.

10:50 p.m. ET, September 14, 2021

Democrats optimistic about a stronger-than-expected Latino turnout

From CNN's Maeve Reston in Los Angeles

Latino voters are often late deciders and many vote in person on Election Day, but Gov. Gavin Newsom strategists and Democratic leaders were very worried about early signs that pointed to a potential underperformance among those voters, who were hit hard by the pandemic.

The “no” on the recall campaign heavily ramped up outreach to those voters in the final days of this campaign.

Early exit polls suggest that Latinos made up 25% of the electorate. That number was higher than several Democratic strategists were expecting.

If that trend were to hold, they said the turning point in getting Latinos to turn in their ballots was Newsom’s effort to sharpen the contrast between his own record and the xenophobic rhetoric and anti-immigrant statements by GOP candidate Larry Elder (as well as Elder’s positions on health care).

Newsom had warned Elder would bring back the days of Proposition 187 (a proposition that would have denied health care, education and welfare benefits to undocumented immigrants). Newsom needed it to be less of a referendum on his handling of Covid-19, and more about creating the fear about what Elder might do on immigration and health care in order to start moving that vote.

One source said he interpreted the numbers as a sign that Latinos “are coming back to say: "we trust you, we believe you, but don’t take us for granted.”

10:47 p.m. ET, September 14, 2021

Newsom camp says it talked with 1.5 million voters in 7 languages

From CNN's Maeve Reston in Los Angeles

One of the reasons Gov. Gavin Newsom’s strategists are feeling so confident tonight is because of the scale of their ground game in California – a state where campaigns normally just play out through television ads.

Newsom’s team scrambled to build out a huge, coordinated operation over 10 weeks by partnering with labor groups and 90 community organizations. As of this evening, the head of Newsom’s ground game operation told CNN they have had “real conversations” with about 1.5 million voters over the course of about seven weeks – noting that��s “at a scale bigger than most of the presidential campaigns.”

They’ve been averaging about 600,000 attempts to reach voters per day. That includes the thousands of walkers who still are out in 15 counties going door-to-door to remind people to turn in their ballots.

Team Newsom has been contacting voters in seven different languages — English, Spanish, Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog, and Vietnamese — via phone, text and door knocks.

The goal is to hit two million door knocks by the end of the day.

“We tried to create a surround sound,” the adviser said, “a multi-layered approach that meets voters wherever they are.”


10:40 p.m. ET, September 14, 2021

The blue-red-blue wave the Newsom camp expects to see in the results

From CNN's Maeve Reston in Los Angeles

Gov. Gavin Newsom's team is confident of victory – not just because Democrats have continued to dominate the early ballots cast, but because they expect to see a second blue wave in the “aftercount.”

Newsom Campaign Manager Juan Rodriguez uses the analogy of an accordion shape to describe the flow of results.

Just after 8:01 p.m. local time (11:01 p.m. ET), he is expecting to see that first blue wave, which will reflect the Democrats dominance of the early ballots cast, but then a redder, more conservative wave as the Election Day votes come in, and then another big blue wave in the ballots that arrive after Election Day. (Ballots that could have been postmarked today, but can arrive for up to seven days). 

Rodriguez pointed to the size of the “aftercount” in 2018, saying 36% of the total ballots cast in that election arrived in the "aftercount."

Former President Trump claimed that perfectly legal 2020 ballots that arrived after Election Day were somehow fraudulent. Now in this recall election, could GOP candidate Larry Elder follow that playbook in California?

10:49 p.m. ET, September 14, 2021

Biden returns to White House confident about unfolding events in California, aides say

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny

President Joe Biden speaks to members of the media after he arrived on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Tuesday.
President Joe Biden speaks to members of the media after he arrived on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Tuesday. (Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

As President Biden returns to the White House tonight after the first West Coast visit of his presidency, aides say he has an air of confidence over what top Democrats are seeing in California.

Aboard Air Force One, advisers briefed Biden on what they believe has been remarkably strong turnout for Democrats in today's recall election.

When Biden said at a rally last night that the “eyes of the nation are on California,” he meant it – not only for Gov. Gavin Newsom, but also on the Covid-19 mandates he is imposing from the White House.

While there may be limits to the sweeping national lessons that can be drawn from the outcome in California, White House advisers believe a strong showing could give Democrats and independents a stronger sense of confidence at the administration’s fights over mask-wearing, vaccines and more. 

Biden has increasingly been sharpening his challenge and criticism of Republican governors across the country.

The outcome tonight, advisers said, will put him in an even stronger position.

“California won’t end the Covid debate,” a White House adviser tells CNN, “but it could be a tremendous boost for what Democrats are trying to do.”


10:52 p.m. ET, September 14, 2021

Line of voters wraps around block at one polling location in Orange County

From CNN's Stephanie Elam in Huntington Beach, California

At one polling location in Huntington Beach in Orange County, California, the line of voters wrapped around the block to decide whether to remove Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom from office, CNN's Stephanie Elam reported.

"You see this long line of people, it's only gotten longer as people finished up their workday and they've shown up here. Orange County is known for being a Republican stronghold. You've got a lot of Republican voters here, and many of the people that I've spoken to said that they wanted to make sure that their vote was counted, and that is why they're showing up to do this in person," Elam said, reporting from Huntington Beach.

Elam noted that she spoke with people who thought Newsom had done "an awful job."

"They want him out of office. We talked to one woman who said that this is a giant waste of time because they have an election just next year for the governor's office," Elam continued.

Another woman told Elam she thought the special election is a good idea because it will make certain that elected leaders will be held accountable regardless of which way the election goes.

"As you can see, there's a lot of activity in Orange County, and obviously Republicans are hoping that this will break their way in a county that has traditionally gone for the Republicans, but not always as demographics have changed here in Orange County," Elam told CNN's Jake Tapper.

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