Recall election targeting Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price could fall to November ballot

OAKLAND — The Alameda County Board of Supervisors opened the door Wednesday for the recall bid targeting District Attorney Pamela Price to fall to the November ballot.

To the chagrin of Price’s opponents, the Board of Supervisors opted to wait until May 14 to set a recall election date. By doing so, the board gave themselves the flexibility to either call a special election for sometime between Aug. 10 and Sept. 16, or to push it off until the Nov. 5 general election.

The move raises the possibility of a recall question with little — if any — precedent in Alameda County appearing on a ballot packed with everything from a rematch between the nation’s last two presidents to an untold number of ballot measures and a once-in-a-generation U.S. Senate race.

Multiple supervisors expressed a desire to take the process slow, given how rare recalls are in Alameda County and how complicated the process has become with the passage of recall election reforms in March. At least one even appeared to welcome legal action as a means to give county leaders guidance on which laws they should be using, and when.

“I’d like to take this a step at a time,” said Supervisor Lena Tam, of waiting until May 14 to set a date.

“I will support this motion in the hopes that litigation is filed so that we could get clearer direction,” added Supervisor Elisa Márquez. “Because we can’t do that ourselves.”

After the meeting, Carl Chan, one of the recall’s organizers and an Oakland Chinatown leader, expressed frustration at the board for opening the possibility of the recall not being decided for six months. The group he helped found, Save Alameda For Everyone, submitted more than 123,000 signatures in early March to get the question on a ballot, and had to wait more than a month while the registrar of voters counted each one to make sure they were valid.

In the end, the registrar counted 74,757 valid signatures — ensuring the group would surpass the required threshold by roughly 1,560 after 48,617 signatures were found to be invalid.

“It’s a disappointment they’re afraid to set up a special election as of today,” Chan said.

Price’s campaign attorney also voiced frustration, but more at the statement Marquez made, as well as how the county has handled the switches between old and new recall elections laws.

“They expect Pamela to come up with several hundred thousand dollars for a lawsuit,” the attorney, Jim Sutton said. “So why don’t (the supervisors) file a lawsuit? And why is no one pushing them? Isn’t it the county’s obligation to figure out these legal issues?”

Tim Dupuis, the county’s Registrar of Voters, cited a lengthy list of budgetary and logistical concerns in voicing his preference for delaying the recall question until November. Special elections in Alameda County typically cost $15 million to $20 million, he said. And conducting a special election so close to a general election could force the agency to procure a new set of election equipment, given the challenges of decommissioning and turning around voting machines in the span of just a few months.

“We have resource demands for both elections, which will be stressed,” Dupuis told the board. “It would put at risk our availability of resources and equipment for the consolidated election” in November.

Before the meeting, supporters and opponents of the recall shouted over each other with megaphones outside the County Administration Building in downtown Oakland, amid dueling chants of “Recall Price” and “We love Price.”

“Let’s make some noise for Pamela Price,” one supporter yelled into a microphone, while surrounded by signs declaring “Stop wasting our money!” and “Protect our budget!”

“The citizens have spoken,” yelled Brenda Grisham, a recall organizer. “We want Pamela Price recalled now, sooner than later, for the safety of our citizens, for the safety or our families and for the safety of Alameda County.”

For more than a year, Price’s opponents have fought against the district attorney’s bid to reshape the East Bay’s justice system. In particular, they have railed against decisions by Price not to pursue lengthier prison terms against criminal defendants.

On Wednesday, recall supporters held signs reading “Special election now!” and “Your safety is Price-LESS,” while complaining to the supervisors that any delay in setting an election date would ignore the desires of tens of thousands of people who lent their signatures to the recall effort.

Some of the people who spoke before the supervisors were relatives of people killed in the East Bay, as well as others who felt that Price has not been tough enough on crime during her 16 months in office.

“I don’t see why we need to delay this,” said one caller, John Guerrero, who added that crime is “having a big impact, a huge impact, on the community — in lives, in property and certainly business. The people want this.”

But Price’s backers questioned a recall effort timed so soon into an elected official’s tenure — particularly one that could cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. They suggested that Price hasn’t had time to fully implement her reforms.

Booting Price from office will only lead the DA’s Office to “continue the same arrest, re-arrest, reincarceration cycle that we’ve had for 30 years, that mostly affects Black and brown communities,” said a caller, Micky Duxbury.

Sutton went further, suggesting the supervisors had no legal standing to schedule an election, given concerns about how the recall organizers collected signatures and how the county’s Registrar of Voters counted them.

“We believe you have a legal obligation to not move forward scheduling this election at all,” Sutton said.

The specter of the recall falling to the November ballot came, in part, as a consequence of newly reformed of election laws that Alameda County voters approved only two months ago.

Prior to March 5, recall elections in Alameda County were governed by laws dating to at least the 1920s that mandated swiftly setting election dates. In most cases, the supervisors had to set elections just 35 to 40 days after receiving validated signature petitions calling for a recall.

But that all changed during the March primary election, when county voters approved Measure B and opted to align the county’s recall ordinances with California’s own recently rewritten laws. Those state laws allow counties two to four months to conduct such elections.

Importantly, the new laws also seek to limit the likelihood of multi-million dollar special recall elections from bumping up against long-planned general elections. Specifically, the laws open the door for the two to be consolidated, if the recall is called within six months of a general election.

It remains unclear which election date might prove more beneficial for Price or her opponents.

Voters during special elections tend to be less diverse, more affluent and far more attuned to the specific issue being voted on during a special election, said Jason McDaniel, associate professor of political science at San Francisco State University.

“It’ll be people who are primarily motivated to vote,” McDaniel said. “It’s harder to generate enthusiasm to block a recall.”

But Joshua Spivak, a senior research fellow at Berkeley Law’s California Constitution Center, said his review of nearly 1,200 recall elections from 2011 to 2023 shows that 61 percent of the time, the official facing a recall is removed from office. The figure is slightly higher, about 67%, when recall questions make it onto a general election ballot, while recalls held in special elections are successful about 57% of the time, he said.

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