California recall voting: Conspiracy theories, unproven fraud claims, and the facts you need

A poll watcher observes election workers next to a sign that says "Ballot preparation."
An observer who declined to give a name watches election workers process ballots and signature verifications at the Orange County Registrar of Voters in Santa Ana on Thursday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The recall campaigning is all but over, and voters will go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to oust Gavin Newsom — and, if so, who should become governor of California.

Polls show the recall effort is struggling. But some Republicans have made unproven claims of voter fraud. As The Times’ Anita Chabria and Maura Dolan reported last week, it’s an extension of the conspiracy theories that the alt-right spread after Donald Trump lost the presidency to Joe Biden last year.

“Some recall campaign leaders fear that mistrust could backfire on their cause by discouraging conservatives from casting ballots. The short timeline of the special election, wildfires and the pandemic have left some counties with fewer options for in-person polling places, making it imperative for the movement to recall Newsom to turn out its voters by any means possible. But fraud rumors are especially prevalent around mail-in ballots,” they wrote.


Some far-right “poll watchers” also are working in parts of California during the recall election, according to an investigation by The Times’ Paige St. John.

“Election watch campaigns are running full force as California nears the Tuesday close of the gubernatorial recall election, only slightly toned down from the suspicion and accusations that dogged the November presidential contest as they collect what they say is fodder for future court challenges and political campaigns,” St. John reported. “In some cases, election chiefs are pushing back, debunking false rumors they might have ignored in the past or shutting down voter signature challenges they say were abused — marking new battle lines in the nation’s political misinformation war.”

And some expect legal challenges, even if the results are not close.

The California recall began with an air of chaos and uncertainty. But it appears to be ending as a two-person race: Gavin Newsom fighting to avoid recall, and Larry Elder trying to overcome the candidates vying to replace Newsom if voters oust him.

The two men have come to dominate the race: Elder blaming Newsom for myriad problems facing California, and Newsom pointing to Elder’s extreme conservative views and warning what would happen if the Republican becomes governor.

What you need to know about California’s Sept. 14 recall election targeting Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Aug. 26, 2021


The basics

Meet all 46 candidates

What you need to know about in-person voting

Options for the second question

How to fill out your ballot

Where to vote — by mail, drop box or in-person

How to vote by mail


How to tell if your mail-in ballot has been counted

Election issues

‘Ballot collection’ is a controversial topic neither side wants to talk about

Election fraud conspiracies run rampant

Growing worries about far-right ‘poll watchers’

The legal issues around California recall leave little room for debate

Will your write-in vote count?


Academics and activists alike say that improvements to the rules and reasons for a recall contest are long overdue. And polling indicates voters might be ready for changes too.

Sept. 13, 2021

The state of the race

Poll finds recall falling further behind

How Larry Elder became to dominate the GOP opposition

The permanent campaign in California

Elder needs Newsom; Newsom needs Elder

L.A. Times reporters assess the final days of campaign


Remember Schwarzenegger’s Sacramento shakeup? If a Republican wins, it could happen again

Larry Elder has struggled to gain wide support in his old neighborhood in his quest to become California’s first Black governor.

Sept. 9, 2021

The Larry Elder story

Larry Elder’s views cost him listeners and even his best friend. But he won’t waver

Larry knows best: The sage of South Central (1998)

What does Larry Elder’s talk radio commentary tell us about how he would lead California?

Larry Elder and his relationship with Donald Trump


Elder’s ex-fiancee becomes his biggest critic

Larry Elder breached charity. But his own charity failed

Questions about Elder’s financial disclosures

Larry Elder vs. the press

Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democrats are singularly focused on Californians casting a “no” vote on the first part of the recall ballot. That may leave some voters unaware they can also choose a replacement in the event Newsom loses.

Aug. 9, 2021

The Gavin Newsom story

How Newsom went from rising star to fighting for his political life


How Gavin Newsom made his fortune (2018)

Inside the decision to lock down California

Newsom faces his biggest challenge after a swift rise

Newsom takes California on its own COVID path

Newsom’s communication over COVID mandates brings questions

What the French laundry debacle really means


Newsom and the changing bar for reopening California