Registrar of Voters dealing with second such election during his tenure

By Jade Martinez-Pogue

Noozhawk Staff Writer

Joe Holland’s first election as Santa Barbara County Registrar of Voters was the history-making 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis.

Now, 18 years later, he and his office are scrambling to get ready for another recall election, this time the Sept. 14 vote that will decide the fate of Gov. Gavin Newsom. Proponents of the recall say the movement really gained traction in collecting signatures after Newsom was spotted at the upscale French Laundry restaurant in Napa while his indoor dining shutdowns were still in effect.

The 2003 election was the first gubernatorial recall attempt to qualify for the California ballot, and history was made again when voters recalled Davis, a two-term Democrat, and replaced him with Republican actor Arnold Schwarzenegger

“There was a lot of attention on the 2003 election, when you had movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger on the ballot,” Holland said. “We actually ran out of ballots because we had a 67% voter turnout, which no one really expected for a special election.”

The County Elections Office had to make copies of the 2003 recall ballot so people could vote on those copies, which were then transferred over to official ballots, he said.

“The 2003 election was very high profile, and I’m not getting the same sense with this election,” Holland said. “I’m hoping I’m wrong; I always want to see people vote …

I would hope that we will get a 67% turnout at least.”

The recall effort was fueled in large part by anger over Newsom’s closures of businesses, schools and houses of worship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rampant homelessness, drought and wildfire concerns, and a multibillion-dollar fraud scandal at the state unemployment agency also contributed.

Proponents also point to what they describe as Newsom’s hypocrisy, after he was caught dining out — unmasked — with lobbyists and aides at one of California’s most expensive restaurants, The French Laundry in the Napa Valley. At the same time, he was urging the public to avoid gathering with people outside their households.

Recall supporters submitted 2.1 million petition signatures, with 1.5 million required for certification.

Typically for an election, the close of candidate filing is 88 days before an election, Holland said, adding that this time the Legislature didn’t set the Sept. 14 date until about 60 days before.

“We’re working on a very compressed timeline here,” he said.

The special recall election will cost the county $2.8 million — an expense that was not included in the $1.35 billion 2021-2022 budget the county Board of Supervisors adopted in June.

“We obviously knew in June that this was coming, so we worked with the county administrator and let them know what the cost would be,” Holland said.

“It’s not in our budget as of right now, but obviously (the Board of Supervisors) is aware that this is not a choice that Santa Barbara County has.”

Holland said he is hopeful the state will reimburse at least part of the cost of the election, but that’s still up in the air.

Voters will answer two questions on the recall ballot. The first will ask if they support removing Newsom from office, with the second giving them a list of candidates to replace him.

“It’s honestly kind of weird,” Holland said.

If more than 50% of voters oppose the recall, the second question is moot, he explained. But if a majority supports it, the replacement candidate with the most votes will be elected the state’s 41st governor.

There were 135 candidates on the 2003 recall ballot, and there are 46 candidates on this one, according to Holland.

Among Republicans running are businessman John Cox, who lost the 2018 gubernatorial election to Newsom by a double-digit margin; Congressman Kevin Kiley; radio talk show host Larry Elder; former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer; and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner.

The most well-known Democrat is Kevin Paffrath, a personal finance influencer on social media.

The last day to register to vote in the special election is Aug. 30, and the conditional voter registration period is open from Aug. 31 until Sept. 14. Click here to register to vote online, or paper voter registration forms are available at U.S. Postal Service and Department of Motor Vehicles offices.

Voters can also check their registration status and update their address online.

Holland said the Elections Office will mail every registered voter a ballot on Aug. 16.

“People need to look out for their ballot on Aug. 16 because that is when we will be mailing them all out,” he said. “Many people will probably be on vacation, but they need to understand how to do this and when to vote.”

While in-person polling places were open for four days during the 2020 presidential election to comply with COVID-19 protocols, in-person polling places for the recall election will only be open Sept. 14, Holland said.

“We’re going back to the ‘just open on Tuesday model’ because we just don’t have the time to put together the four-day ordeal and, quite frankly, you just can’t find locations that are willing to be open for four days because we don’t have the pandemic shutdown right now,” he added.

Santa Barbara County is still seeking volunteers to work as poll workers for the special election, as community participation is essential to staffing the precincts and polling places. Click here to learn more about the poll worker training and programs.

About 25 to 30 drop boxes will be made available for one month prior to election day so people can mail in their ballots, Holland added.

“For this election, the pressure on the polling places should not be very high in terms of visiting because everyone will be mailed a ballot,” he said.

Voters will have up until Sept. 7 to request a replacement vote by mail ballot, and the Elections Office can receive ballots until Sept. 21, as long as they are postmarked by Sept. 14, Holland said.

The City of Lompoc will be consolidating a special cannabis tax municipal election with the recall election, and Lompoc voters can expect to see that additional measure on their ballots.

Noozhawk staff writer Jade Martinez-Pogue can be reached at