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We won’t have the same governor after Tuesday’s recall election — no matter who wins. 

Norberto Santana, Jr.

A pioneering leader in the nation’s rising nonprofit news movement and an award-winning journalist. Santana has established Voice of OC as Orange County’s civic news leader, uncovered truths across Southern California governments for more than two decades and reported on Congress and Latin America. Subscribe now to receive his latest columns by email.

On Monday, President Joe Biden told a crowd gathered in Long Beach that the nation’s eyes were on California’s recall — awaiting what kind of message would be sent on pandemic protocols, like masks and vaccine mandates. 

Here in Orange County, Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley tells me he expects the election to end around 11 p.m. tonight, when all the local votes are expected to be counted. 

Now, if Gov. Gavin Newsom avoids recall, many campaign observers will chalk up his recent success in the polls to his heightened focus over the last six weeks in speeches and ads touting California’s COVID safety measures.

And reminding voters what the state could look like without them.

Voting booths at the Salgado Recreation Center in Santa Ana on Sept. 12, 2021. (Omar Sanchez / Voice of OC) Credit: OMAR SANCHEZ, Voice of OC

In contrast to Newsom, the frontrunner in the recall on the Republican side of candidates is local a.m. talk show host Larry Elder, the Sage from South Central, a conservative commentator who espouses a very different approach to the pandemic. 

For example, one that doesn’t include masks in schools or vaccine mandates.

Judging from the strong turnout, whoever wins on Tuesday will have a pretty good indicator of what California voters want when it comes to handling COVID. 

Note that the Newsom recall effort started over issues like immigration, but when the coronavirus shutdowns came down last Spring and summer, the recall took off. 

Signs advocating to vote “NO” on the California Gubernatorial Recall Election by Bolsa Avenue in Westminster on Sept. 12, 2021. (Omar Sanchez / Voice of OC) Credit: OMAR SANCHEZ, Voice of OC

Many political observers said Newsom’s June 15 reopening took a lot of support away from recall organizers as many people went back to work.

In addition, others told me that national issues like the ongoing COVID-19 surges in other states like Texas as well as the national abortion debate reignited by recent legislation in that same state may also have really heightened Democratic turnout statewide. 

Now here in Orange County, Kelley tells me turnout is hovering at 42 percent, the highest in Southern California. 

Voter makes their way inside the Salgado Recreation Center voting center in Santa Ana on Sept. 12, 2021. (Omar Sanchez / Voice of OC) Credit: OMAR SANCHEZ, Voice of OC

That’s considered pretty solid for a special, off-calendar election — the type that usually has a 25 percent turnout of registered voters. 

However, it’s not as strong as the 61 percent turnout in the 2003 recall election, so far, which threw out Gov. Gray Davis and witnessed actor Arnold Schwarzenegger win office. 

Then again, the Terminator is not on this ballot. 

And, as many observers on both sides of the aisle told me in reporting out this column, it ain’t 2003. 

So let’s consider how the numbers are playing out now in areas like Orange County, the place Ronald Reagan used to say where all good Republicans went to die. 

Here Democrats are outpacing Republicans on early ballot returns.

A billboard on the State Route 22 freeway advocating to vote “NO” on the California Gubernatorial Recall Election on Sept. 12, 2021. Credit: OMAR SANCHEZ, Voice of OC

Although observers expect a Republican wave to show up on Tuesday at 64 polling stations across Orange County, the question is how many voters will show up?

More than 822,000 ballots have already been returned in Orange County. 

So far, nearly 306,000 Democrats have turned in a mail-in ballot compared to 278,000 for Republicans. 

No party preference voters have returned 148,000 mail-in ballots. 

Just over 60,000 people have voted in person.

Kelley said about 8,000 people voted in person on Monday. 

He expects another busy day on Tuesday. 

The Newsom recall also has had a boomerang effect here in Orange County, triggering two separate recalls for two county supervisors, with three more recalls scheduled to either get approved today or run out of time. 

Protestors gathered outside the Hall of Administration before the Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting to protest coronavirus vaccines and the pandemic response. May 11, 2021. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

While those recalls have largely been fueled by local activists protesting state COVID-related shutdowns and protocols, they also focused on the OC Board of Supervisors after being treated rudely on a consistent basis by the current board, who also severely limited their public comment time. 

Recall organizers have secured the needed approvals from Kelley’s office to circulate recall petitions against Supervisors’ Chairman Andrew Do and Supervisors’ Vice Chair Doug Chafee. 

Efforts against Supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Don Wagner seemed to have dropped off, Kelley said.

But last week activists started the process again to seek authorization to get signatures. 

That deadline is today. 

Now, if Newsom avoids recall — with what many could interpret as a strong mandate for heightened COVID protocols and mandates — his administration could potentially offer local county supervisors a host of challenges to manage. 

Yet Newsom still faces re-election in 2022 and that, say some observers, could keep him away from instituting any new mandates or protocols. 

Sign advocating to vote “NO” on the California Gubernatorial Recall Election in Los Alamitos on Sept. 12, 2021. Credit: Omar Sanchez, VOICE OF OC

Now, if Elder gets elected, that’s where you would figure that local county supervisors would come into play as major leaders on COVID policy given the Republican preference for local control. 

The question then becomes, what kind of approach would Orange County Supervisors take if they were in control of pandemic protocols?

That will in large part rely on the message sent by voters at the polls today, especially in Orange County. 

So don’t forget to let them know what you think. 

You have until 8 p.m. to show up.

Kelley says he’ll leave the porch light on.

Till 8 p.m. 

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