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Election Denial in California

  • 0 Election Deniers currently hold statewide office with election oversight power.

  • 8 Election Deniers have held, or run for, statewide office since 2020.

The landscape in California

None of California’s statewide officials are Election Deniers, and its state government has moved to protect elections, not damage them. In 2022, the state shielded election workers from threats and harassment by allowing them to keep their personal information confidential.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law in October 2023 strictly limiting when counties can count ballots by hand. Often motivated by conspiracy theories, some U.S. counties have considered switching to hand counts, even though they are slower, less secure, and more prone to error than machine counts. Two years earlier, conspiracy theorists pushed unfounded claims about voter fraud even as they tried to recall Newsom. Larry Elder, a California talk radio host, ran unsuccessfully to unseat Newsom in that election and claimed it was rigged before the votes were even counted. Elder mounted a brief campaign for president in 2023 before dropping out and endorsing Donald Trump, who had echoed the same baseless claims of fraud in California elections. Additionally, seven members of Congress from California were among the 147 who voted to overturn 2020 election results on Jan. 6 and 7, 2021.

Election Deniers outside elected office are also working hard to erode trust in California elections. In Shasta County, Mike Lindell, a pro-Trump conspiracy theorist and one of the country’s most prominent Election Deniers, backed an effort to ditch voting machines. (Days before the 2023 election, some members of the county Board of Supervisors were still pushing for full hand counts of ballots, despite the new law.) Another Election Denier, Douglas Frank, has given more than 50 speeches in California as he works to undermine trust in voting systems despite the absence of even a hint of fraud.

0 Election Deniers hold statewide Office right now.

Elections are run by the states. In California, the Governor, Attorney General, and Secretary of State are the state officials responsible for overseeing elections. It’s up to them to make sure the will of the people is always respected.

Read more about The Roles of Our Elected Officials in Elections

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Election Deniers

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How California compares

Every state runs its own elections, with its own laws and processes. Check out how California compares with other states in its region when it comes to Election Deniers holding state election administration jobs.

Election Denial in Far West States

Sitting official is an Election Denier

  1. In Alaska, the chief election official is the Lieutenant Governor, elected alongside the Governor.
  2. In Hawai'i, the Chief Election Official is appointed by the Hawai'i Elections Commission.

Voter turnout over time

Voters are always the backstop against election denial, whether Election Deniers are already in office or vying for power. It’s important to turn out for every election in your state—and to vote in every race on your ballot. Downballot races, like contests for Attorney General and Secretary of State, have historically drawn fewer voters, even though the positions are critical to keeping elections free, fair, and secure. Here’s a look at voter participation in California elections over time. Notice that in years with several important positions up for election, some voters choose not to vote in every race.

Voter Participation in California Since 2016

Attorney General
Secretary of State
  1. 2016 Presidential

    • President had a 58% voter turnout rate

    • Senator had a 50% voter turnout rate

  2. 2018 Midterm

    • Senator had a 44% voter turnout rate

    • Governor had a 49% voter turnout rate

    • Attorney General had a 49% voter turnout rate

    • Secretary of State had a 49% voter turnout rate

  3. 2020 Presidential

    • President had a 68% voter turnout rate

Voter turnout

Data on the number of votes cast in each race are from state elections depositories, supplemented with data from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), House Election Statistics, and The Book of States. Rates are calculated using the Census’s Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) estimates. Rates will be updated when the Census releases new CVAP data for 2022.

Beyond the ballot box

Each year, state legislators introduce thousands of bills related to elections. And in the past few years, we’ve identified a concerning trend. Across the country, state legislatures are considering bills that would make it easier for partisan actors to manipulate an election, and maybe even overturn the will of the people. We’re tracking these bills along with our partners in an ongoing series of reports called “A Democracy Crisis in the Making.” In 2023 alone, through early May, we tracked 185 bills introduced in 38 state legislatures that would politicize, criminalize, or interfere with elections. 

The anti-democracy playbook is simple: change the rules and change the referees, in order to change the results. These bills go hand-in-hand with the Election Denier movement: They’re about taking power away from voters and making it harder for trusted election officials to do their jobs.

Read the full report

Legislative Interference in California by Category

As of May 3, 2023, no bills had been introduced or were under consideration in California. None have been enacted or adopted and none have been vetoed after passing.

  • Usurping control over election results.
    These bills would give legislators or other state officials direct control over election outcomes.
  • Requiring partisan or unprofessional election “audits” or reviews.
    These bills would establish vague post-election review schemes without the professional standards of traditional audits.
  • Seizing power over election responsibilities.
    These bills would shift election administration responsibilities away from professional, nonpartisan officials and toward partisan actors in the legislature.
  • Creating unworkable burdens in election administration.
    These bills would interfere with the basic procedures of election administration, increasing the risk of chaos and delay and enabling misleading claims of irregularity.
  • Imposing disproportionate criminal or other penalties.
    These bills would create or expand penalties for election officials in the ordinary execution of their jobs, including criminalizing inadvertent mistakes.