When will we know who won the California recall election? What to expect on election night

Lara Korte, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in Political News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — After more than a year of debate, protests and lawsuits, the election to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom is here.

Despite the anticipation, it’s possible Californians will not know the outcome of the race before the day is through.

“Be prepared to wait,” said Stephen Ohlemacher, the election decision editor for the Associated Press, which has counted the vote in every U.S. election since 1848.

“Just because you see the lead switching back and forth, that doesn’t necessarily mean something wrong is happening. And just because it takes several weeks to count all the votes after election day, that’s very typical in California.”

Every active, registered voter in California, about 22 million, received a mail ballot for the recall election. As of Monday evening, more than 7.5 million ballots had been returned.

The first returns on election night, the ones reported right after the polls close, are likely to consist of mail ballots and early, in-person ballots processed prior to election day, Ohlemacher said.


In 2020, across the nation, Republicans were more likely to vote on election day than by mail after President Donald Trump raised questions about mail ballots. Those who did vote by mail leaned “pretty significantly toward Democrats,” he added.

Early votes this time heavily favor Newsom, according to Political Data Inc., which tracks return ballots. A poll last week conducted for the Berkeley Institute of Governmental studies found that 77% of those who intended to vote in person on election day favored recalling the Democratic governor.

In California, voters must postmark their ballots by election day, but county elections officials can receive and count votes up to seven days after the election.

“Be wary of early returns. They may not be a good indication of the final outcome,” Ohlemacher said.


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