How often do California recalls succeed?

California is one of 19 states where voters can gather signatures to force a recall election that would remove a statewide officeholder.

The latest target is Gov. Gavin Newsom. On Sept. 14, voters will decide whether he keeps his job.

Including Newsom, 82 state officials have faced a recall drive since the process was added to the state Constitution more than a century ago.

A Times review of the recall’s history found that while petitions are common, most fail to amass enough signatures. Once it’s on the ballot, the odds of success improve significantly.

There have been 179 recall petitions since 1913.

Eleven attempts received enough support to advance to a vote.

Voters have removed the incumbent six times.

If more than 50% vote in favor of September’s recall, then Newsom will become the seventh.

In California, any state officer can be recalled.

Recall petitions often target governors and legislators, though other officials have been subjected to campaigns as well, including members of the state Supreme Court.

Failed petition
Failed vote
Successful vote

Nine of California’s last 11 governors have been subjected to multiple recall petitions.

Gov. George Deukmejian, who was governor from 1983 to 1991, was challenged the most.

Gov. Jerry Brown, the 34th and 39th governor of California, faced petitions throughout all four terms of his office.

Only one governor has been removed from office: Gov. Gray Davis in 2003.

California’s recall was a Progressive-era reform championed by Hiram Johnson, who became governor in 1911. Johnson said the recall would give the people "the power of which they may protect themselves" against "recalcitrant" officials.

The tool was first used to remove Marshall Black — a state senator representing Santa Clara County — in 1913. Voters sought his removal after Black was indicted for embezzling funds from the Palo Alto Mutual Buildilng and Loan Association, where he was secretary.

For the next seven decades, recalls were rare. Petitions became more common in the 1980s, coinciding with the increased use of the initiative — another of Johnson's direct democracy reforms. The number of signature gathering campaigns in that decade increased roughly 10-fold from the 1970s.

The use of recall petitions slowed in the 1990s, but the success rate increased.

Three recall attempts initiated by Republicans in the mid-1990s, two of them successful, were part of a battle to control the state Assembly.

In 2003, Davis, the top state official, was successfully removed after an energy crisis led to rolling blackouts and a record-setting state budget deficit that led to a large increase in annual vehicle registration fees.

Newsom goes into September’s recall election in a better place politically but polls show his detractors are highly motivated to remove him from office. Learn more about the upcoming vote from The Times election guide.