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Judge rules against Gov. Newsom, cannot label himself a Democrat on ballot as recall vote looms

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom cannot list himself as a Democrat on an upcoming recall ballot because it’s a violation of state law, a judge ruled on Monday as his administration raced to fix an error related to the issue.

The ruling comes after Newsom sued Secretary of State Shirley Weber late last month claiming that state law imposes an unnecessarily “early deadline for recall targets to request their party designation and that voters deserve to see that information,” Politico reported Monday.

State Superior Court Judge James P. Arguelles, who ruled against Newsom earlier in the day, had earlier given recall proponents four extra months to gather signatures in their effort which happened to be during the worst months for the COVID-19 pandemic in the Golden State.

The judge also dismissed Newsom’s argument, through his attorney, that ensuring voters know a candidate’s political party was vital, noting that current law offers candidates “discretion to inform recall voters about their party preferences, as opposed to imposing a requirement that voters be so informed.”

He also rejected the argument that a “good faith error” on the governor’s part is enough to allow Newsom’s political affiliation to be included, as his staff initially directed.

“Governor Newsom argues that unique circumstances attending his untimely party designation support an order excusing the noncompliance,” wrote Arguelles, but he added that “the court is not persuaded.”

Newsom’s attorneys had sought a ruling this week before Weber completed the roster of candidates on Friday so county election officials can begin putting together the ballots.

The case stems from a little-noticed measure Newsom signed into law in 2019 that lets elected officials targeted by recalls to list their party designation on ballots. However, Politico noted, the governor’s attorneys did not ask him to utilize the option in February 2020 when they were responding to the recall petition, “the formal window to make that request,” the outlet reported.

His legal team said the oversight was unintended while going on to argue that voters would be better off if they knew Newsom’s party affiliation.

But lawyers for the recall effort as well as GOP gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner said the law was clear and that it blocked Newsom from making the change he sought. They also ripped the governor for attempting to skew the law to his benefit.

“At base, this comes down to whether the governor of California has to follow the unambiguous law, and it just so happens a law he signed,” Eric Early, an attorney for recall backers, argued Friday. “This may be a bitter pill for the governor to swallow, but swallow it he must.”

The recall election is set for Sept. 14, but many Californians are expected to take advantage of early voting by mail. Every registered voter who is currently active will be mailed a ballot; counties have to get them out by Aug. 16, Politico reported.

Polling indicates that Newsom is likely to survive the recall in the heavily Democratic state, as fundraising and the electorate favor him. But, Politico noted, his GOP opponents are clearly holding a voter enthusiasm edge.

“Today’s ruling doesn’t change the facts: California Democrats are united behind Governor @GavinNewsom,” the state Democratic Party said in a tweet. “We’re ready to organize to beat the Republican Recall attempt.”

Jon Dougherty

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