A recall election (also called a recall referendum or representative recall) is a procedure by which, in certain polities, voters can remove an elected official from office through a direct vote before that official's term has ended. Recalls, which are initiated when sufficient voters sign a petition, have a history dating back to ancient Athenian democracy and feature in several current constitutions. In indirect or representative democracy, people's representatives are elected and these representatives rule for a specific period of time. However, where the facility to recall exists, should any representative come to be perceived as not properly discharging their responsibilities, then they can be called back with the written request of specific number or proportion of voters.
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The recall referendum arrived in Latin America shortly after its introduction at the US subnational level, in 1923 and 1933, to Cordoba and Entre Ríos provinces, respectively, both in Argentina. There, recall exists at the provincial level in Chaco (introduced in 1957), Chubut (1994), Córdoba (1923, 1987), Corrientes (1960), La Rioja (1986), Rio Negro (1988), Santiago del Estero and Tierra del Fuego (1991); other provinces include it for their municipalities, namely, Entre Ríos (1933), Neuquén (1957), Misiones (1958), San Juan (1986), San Luis (1987). It is also included in Buenos Aires City (1996).
In 1995, the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia enacted representative recall. In the province of British Columbia, voters in a provincial riding can petition to have their representative in parliament removed from office, even if that MLA is also the premier. (Holding a seat in the legislature is not constitutionally necessary to be premier, however.) If enough registered voters sign the petition, the speaker of the legislature announces in parliament that the member has been recalled and the lieutenant governor drops the writ for a by-election as soon as possible, giving voters the opportunity to replace the politician in question. By January 2003, 22 recall efforts had been launched. No-one has been recalled so far, but one representative, Paul Reitsma, resigned in 1998 when it looked as if the petition to recall him would have enough signatures to spur a recall election. Reitsma resigned during the secondary verification stage and the recall count ended.
In Colombia, the recall referendum was included by the constitution in 1991. The constitutional replacement was launched as an answer to the movement known as la séptima papeleta (the seventh ballot), which requested a constitutional reform to end violence, narcoterrorism, corruption and increasing citizenship apathy. The definition of recall referendum in relation to programmatic vote was approved. It obliges candidates running for office to register a government plan which is later on considered to activate the recall. Since the time the mechanism was regulated by Law 134 in 1994, until 2015, 161 attempts led 41 referendums and none of them succeeded since the threshold of participation was not reached. In 2015, a new law (303/2015) reduced the number of signatures required to activate a recall referendum (from 40 per cent to 30 per cent of the total of votes obtained by the elected authority) and the threshold (dropping from the 50 per cent to the 40 per cent of valid votes on the day of the elections of the challenged authority). The change in the regulation, also quickening the registration of promoters, led to a considerable increase in the number of attempts.
Article 18, Section 3 of the Constitution of Bavaria provides, that the entire Landtag can be dismissed by referendum on petition of 1 Million citizens, with elections of a new Landtag to be held up to six weeks after the recall referendum. The recall of specific members however, is not provided for.
- Article 14: Not less than one tenth of electors has the right to initiate a national referendum regarding recalling of the Saeima.
- If the majority of voters and at least two thirds of the number of the voters who participated in the last elections of the Saeima vote in the national referendum regarding recalling of the Saeima, then the Saeima shall be deemed recalled.
- The right to initiate a national referendum regarding recalling of the Saeima may not be exercised one year after the convening of the Saeima and one year before the end of the term of office of the Saeima, during the last six months of the term of office of the President, as well as earlier than six months after the previous national referendum regarding recalling of the Saeima.
- The electors may not recall any individual member of the Saeima.
Early policies of the New Zealand Labour Party included support for "the recall".
Article 10 of the constitution of the Philippines allows for the recall of local officials. The Local Government Code, as amended, enabled the provisions of the constitution to be applied. Elected officials from provincial governors to the barangay councilors are allowed to be recalled. At least 25% of the electorate in a specific place must have their signatures verified in a petition in order for the recall to take place.
The president, vice president, members of Congress, and the elected officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao cannot be removed via recall.
Recall regulations were introduced in Peru by the Democratic Constituent Congress (Congreso Constituyente Democrático) which drafted a new constitution after Alberto Fujimori's autogolpe in 1992. Between 1997 and 2013, more than 5000 recall referendums were activated against democratically elected authorities from 747 Peruvian municipalities (45.5% of all municipalities). This makes Peru the world's most intensive user of this mechanism.
While recalls are not provided for at the federal level in Switzerland, six cantons allow them:
- Bern: Recall of the executive and legislative has been possible since 1846. 30,000 signatures (4% of all adult citizens) are required to trigger a recall referendum. There has been one unsuccessful attempt to recall the executive in 1852 (the 'Schatzgelder' affair).
- Schaffhausen: Recall of the executive and legislative has been possible since 1876. 1,000 signatures (2% of all adult citizens) are required to trigger a recall referendum. There has been one unsuccessful attempt to recall the executive in 2000, triggered by the lawyer and cantonal MP Gerold Meier.
- Solothurn: Recall of the executive and legislative has been possible since 1869. 6,000 signatures (3% of all adult citizens) are required to trigger a recall referendum. There has been one unsuccessful attempt to recall the executive and legislative in 1995 (related to a banking scandal). Three further attempts (in 1887, 1961 and 1973) failed to collect the necessary number of signatures.
- Ticino: Recall of the executive has been possible since 1892. 15,000 signatures (7% of all adult citizens) are required to trigger a recall referendum. There has been one unsuccessful recall attempt in 1942. In addition, recall of municipal executives has been possible since 2011. Signatures of 30% of all adult citizens are required to trigger a recall referendum.
- Thurgau: Recall of the executive and legislative has been possible since 1869. 20,000 signatures (13% of all adult citizens) are required to trigger a recall referendum. There have been no recall attempts.
- Uri: Recall of the executive and legislative has been possible since 1888. Since 1979, 600 signatures (3% of all adult citizens) have been required to trigger a recall referendum. In addition, recall of municipal executives and legislatives has been possible since 2011. Signatures of 10% of registered voters are required to trigger a recall referendum. There have been no recall attempts either at the cantonal or municipal levels.
The possibility of recall referendums (together with the popular election of executives, the initiative and the legislative referendum) was introduced into several cantonal constitutions after the 1860s in the course of a broad movement for democratic reform. The instrument has never been of any practical importance—the few attempts at recall so far have failed, usually because the required number of signatures was not collected—and it was abolished in the course of constitutional revisions in Aargau (1980), Baselland (1984) and Lucerne (2007). The only successful recall so far happened in the Canton of Aargau in the year 1862. However, the possibility of recalling municipal executives was newly introduced in Ticino in 2011, with 59% of voters in favor, as a reaction to the perceived problem of squabbling and dysfunctional municipal governments.
In Taiwan, according to the Additional Articles of the Constitution of the Republic of China, the recall of the president or the vice president shall be initiated upon the proposal of one-fourth of all members of the Legislative Yuan, and also passed by two-thirds of all the members. The final recall must be passed by more than one-half of the valid ballots in a vote in which more than one-half of the electorate in the free area of the Republic of China takes part.
A year after the 2015 Ukrainian local elections, voters can achieve a recall election of an elected deputy or mayor if as many signatures as voters are collected.
The Recall of MPs Act 2015 (c. 25) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which allows a recall petition to be held if a Member of Parliament did certain wrongdoings, including being sentenced to prison for up to a year (longer sentences result in automatic disqualification). If the subsequent recall petition is successful, by being signed by at least 10% of the electorate, a by-election is called. It received Royal Assent on 26 March 2015 after being introduced on 11 September 2014. On 1 May 2019, Fiona Onasanya became the first MP to be removed from office after a successful recall petition.
Recall first appeared in Colonial America in the laws of the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631. This version of the recall involved one elected body removing another official. During the American Revolution, the Articles of Confederation stipulated that state legislatures might recall delegates from the Continental Congress. According to New York Delegate John Lansing, the power was never exercised by any state. The Virginia Plan, issued at the outset of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, proposed to pair recall with rotation in office and to apply these dual principles to the lower house of the national legislature. The recall was rejected by the Constitutional Convention. However, the anti-Federalists used the lack of recall provision as a weapon in the ratification debates.
Several states proposed adopting a recall for US senators in the years immediately following the adoption of the Constitution. However, it did not pass.
Only two governors have ever been successfully recalled. In 1921, Governor Lynn Frazier of North Dakota was recalled during a dispute about state-owned industries. In 2003, Governor Gray Davis of California was recalled over the state budget. Additionally, in 1988, a recall was approved against Governor Evan Mecham of Arizona, but he was impeached and convicted before it got on the ballot.
In Alaska, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Rhode Island, and Washington, specific grounds are required for a recall. Some form of malfeasance or misconduct while in office must be identified by the petitioners. The target may choose to dispute the validity of the grounds in court, and a court then judges whether the allegations in the petition rise to a level where a recall is necessary. In the November 2010 general election, Illinois passed a referendum to amend the state constitution to allow a recall of the state's governor, in light of former Governor Rod Blagojevich's corruption scandal. In the other eleven states that permit statewide recall, no grounds are required and recall petitions may be circulated for any reason. However, the target is permitted to submit responses to the stated reasons for recall.
The minimum number of signatures to qualify a recall, and the time limit to do so, vary among the states. In addition, the handling of recalls, once they qualify, differs. In some states a recall triggers a simultaneous special election, where the vote on the recall, as well as the vote on the replacement if the recall succeeds, are on the same ballot. In the 2003 California recall election, over 100 candidates appeared on the replacement portion of the ballot. In other states, a separate special election is held after the target is recalled, or a replacement is appointed by the Governor or some other state authority.
In 2011, there were at least 150 recall elections in the United States. Of these, 75 officials were recalled, and nine officials resigned under threat of recall. Recalls were held in 17 states in 73 different jurisdictions. Michigan had the most recalls (at least 30). The year set a record for number of state legislator recall elections (11 elections) beating the previous one-year high (three elections). Three jurisdictions adopted the recall in 2011.
Of recall elections, 52 were for city council, 30 were for mayor, 17 were for school board, 11 were for state legislators, and one was for a prosecuting attorney (York County, Nebraska). The largest municipality to hold a recall was Miami-Dade County, Florida, for mayor.
The busiest day was November 8 (Election Day) with 26 recalls. In 34 jurisdictions, recalls were held over multiple days.
- 1911 recall of Hiram Gill, Mayor of Seattle, Washington
- 1913 recall of a judge in San Francisco
- 1916 recall of J. W. Robinson, Mayor of Boise, Idaho
- 1921 recall of Lynn Frazier, Governor of North Dakota
- 1928 Lester R. Rice-Wray, Los Angeles, California, City Council member
- 1932 recalls of three judges in Los Angeles
- 1977 recall of County Judge Archie Simonson, Madison, Wisconsin
- 1977 recall of Five members of the La Crosse School Board, La Crosse, Wisconsin
- 1983 recall of Michigan state senators Phil Mastin and David Serotkin due to their support for a state income tax hike. Loss of these two Democratic lawmakers, along with two special elections won by Republicans, flipped the state senate to GOP control, where it has remained ever since (as of June 2017).
- 1987 recall of Mike Boyle, Mayor of Omaha, Nebraska.
- 1987 recall of James Holley, Mayor of Portsmouth, Virginia
- 1992 recall of Four Members of the La Crosse School Board
- 1994 recall of officials in River Vale, New Jersey: Mayor Walter Jones, Councilwoman Patricia Geier, and Councilman Bernard Salmon
- 1995 recall of California State Assemblyman Paul Horcher
- 1995 recall of California State Assembly Speaker Doris Allen
- 1996 recall of Carrollton Texas Mayor Gary Blanscet and council members Linda Caldwell, Bernis Francis, Stan Hampton, Bob Novinsky and Bert Colter & Stan Sewell
- 1996 recall of Wisconsin State Senator George Petak
- 1998 recall of Tim Peters, mayor of North Pole, Alaska.
- 2002 recall of Woodrow Stanley, mayor of Flint, Michigan.
- 2002 recall of multiple Milwaukee County, Wisconsin elected county officials including Executive F. Thomas Ament (resigned before election); Board Chair Karen Ordinans; and Board Supervisors Penny Podell, LeAnn Launstein, David Jasenski, Kathy Arciszewski, James McGuigan, and Linda Ryan. All were recalled due to a retirement pension controversy.
- 2003 recall of Gray Davis, Governor of California
- 2003 recall of Wisconsin State Senator Gary George
- 2005 recall of James E. West, Mayor of Spokane, Washington.
- 2006 recall of Neil Marko, Mayor of Roosevelt, New Jersey.
- 2008 recall of Carmen Kontur-Gronquist, Mayor of Arlington, Oregon.
- 2010 recall of James Holley, Mayor of Portsmouth, Virginia.
- 2010 recall of Jane Murray, Mayor of Portsmouth, Ohio
- 2011 recall of Carlos Alvarez, Mayor of Miami-Dade County, Florida.
- 2011 recall of Natacha Seijas, Miami-Dade County Commissioner.
- 2011 recall of Wisconsin State Senator Randy Hopper
- 2011 recall of Wisconsin State Senator Dan Kapanke
- 2011 recall of Neal Knight, Mayor of Cornelius, Oregon, and city councilors Mari Gottwald and Jamie Minshall, less than a year after their election, due to unhappiness over their votes to fire the city manager.
- 2011 recall of multiple Killeen, Texas elected city officials including Mayor Pro Tem Scott Cosper and four city council members.
- 2011 recall of Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce.
- 2011 recall of Michigan State Representative Paul Scott
- 2012 recall of Fullerton, California City Council members Don Bankhead, F. Richard "Dick" Jones and Patrick McKinley.
- 2012 recall of Bob Ryan, Mayor of Sheboygan, Wisconsin
- 2012 recall of Wisconsin State Senator Van H. Wanggaard
- 2012 recall of Janice Daniels, Mayor of Troy, Michigan
- 2012 recall of Melinda Myers, Clerk & Recorder of Saguache County, Colorado.
- 2013 recall of Colorado Democratic State Senator John Morse
- 2013 recall of Colorado Democratic State Senator Angela Giron
- 2013 recall of Deedy Slaughter, Mayor of Port Allen, Louisiana
- 2014 recall of Fall River, Massachusetts Mayor William A. Flanagan
- 2014 recall of Mayor Marilynn Lynn of Bridgeport, WA
- 2015 recall of four selectmen in Saugus, Massachusetts
- 2015 recall of three school board members in Jefferson County, Colorado
- 2016 recall of Mayor and City Council President in East Cleveland, Ohio
- 2018 recall of Bowie, Maryland city councilwoman Diane Polangin, over her vote to approve a controversial development project located in her district
- 2018 recall of California superior court judge Aaron Persky of Santa Clara County over his sentencing decision in People v. Turner
- 2018 recall of California State Senator Josh Newman over his vote to raise the gas tax
- 2018 recall of Toledo, Oregon mayor Billie Jo Smith and two City Council members over allegations of malfeasance, wrongful termination of city employees, and conducting city business at secret meetings
- 2018 recall of Mahwah, New Jersey mayor William Laforet.
- 2019 recall of Rusk, Texas city council members Jan Pate and Ken Ferrara for conduct unbecoming of a council member (May 4, 2019 Cherokeean Herald May 9, 2019)
- 1932 recall election of Wisconsin State Senator Otto Mueller
- 1978 recall of Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich
- 1982 recall of Grant County, Wisconsin Judge William L. Reinecke
- 1983 recall of San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein
- 1990 recall of Wisconsin State Assemblyman Jim Holperin
- 2008 recall of California State Senator Jeff Denham
- 2008 recall of Michigan House of Representatives Speaker Andy Dillon
- 2009 recall of San Jose, California City Council member Madison Nguyen
- 2009 recall of Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic
- 2010 recall of Mayor Doug Isaacson in North Pole, Alaska
- 2010 recall of Mayor Anthony R. Suarez in Ridgefield, New Jersey
- 2011 recall of Omaha, Nebraska Mayor Jim Suttle
- 2011 recall of Wisconsin State Senator Dave Hansen
- 2011 recall of Wisconsin State Senator Robert Cowles
- 2011 recall of Wisconsin State Senator Sheila Harsdorf
- 2011 recall of Wisconsin State Senator Luther Olsen
- 2011 recall of Wisconsin State Senator Alberta Darling
- 2011 recall of Wisconsin State Senator Robert Wirch
- 2011 recall of Wisconsin State Senator Jim Holperin
- 2012 recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
- 2012 recall of Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch
- 2012 recall of Wisconsin State Senator Scott L. Fitzgerald
- 2012 recall of Wisconsin State Senator Terry Moulton
- 2013 recall of La Crosse, Wisconsin City Council President Audrey Kader
- 2014 recall of Port Orford, Oregon Mayor Jim Aubornn
- 2017 recall of Flint, Michigan mayor Karen Weaver
Note: Wisconsin's Jim Holperin has the distinction of being the only U.S. politician to have been subjected to recall from service in two different legislative bodies: the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1990 and the Wisconsin State Senate in 2011. Both attempts were unsuccessful.
Unsuccessful attempts to qualify recall elections
- 1967 United States Senator Frank Church of Idaho was the subject of an unsuccessful recall effort. Courts ruled that a federal official is not subject to state recall laws.
- 1988 Evan Mecham, Governor of Arizona, was scheduled for a recall election on May 17 of that year, after a successful petition drive (301,000 signatures). However, the Supreme Court of Arizona canceled the election, since Mecham had already been impeached and removed from office by the Senate on April 4.
- 1992-93 California Governor Pete Wilson was targeted for recall by the Bite 'Em Back campaign, which was a grassroots effort that came about as a result of a piece by San Jose Mercury News columnist Pat Dillon, in response to the then-ongoing California budgetary crisis. The Bite 'Em Back campaign also intended to recall then-Speaker of the Assembly Willie L. Brown, and then-President Pro Tem of the state Senate, David Roberti.
- 2003 H. Brent Coles, mayor of Boise, Idaho, was the subject of a recall petition drive. Coles resigned on February 14, 2003, before the recall drive could proceed.
- 2009 Joseph Cao U.S. representative for Louisiana's 2nd congressional district, was determined to be not subject to recall because of his status as a Federal office holder.
- 2009 a petition failed to garner sufficient signatures to oblige an election for recall of Eddie Price III, mayor of Mandeville, Louisiana.
- 2009 a petition for recall of Stacy Head, New Orleans city councilwoman, likewise failed to gain the requisite number of signatures.
- 2010 there were two unsuccessful recall petitions for Sam Adams mayor of Portland, OR.
- 2010 there was one unsuccessful recall petition for Lisa Poppaw city council member of Fort Collins, CO.
- 2010 there was one unsuccessful recall petition for Antonio Villaraigosa mayor of Los Angeles.
- 2010, a recall proposal aimed at mayor Ron Littlefield of Chattanooga, Tennessee failed after a judge of the Hamilton County, Tennessee circuit court ruled that too many of the petition signatures were invalid and that the petitioners had failed to properly adhere to the state's recall law, leaving "pages without dates."
- 2011, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled in November that the Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth did not have the jurisdiction in entering an injunction against the Hamilton County Election Commission. In its judgment summary the Appeals Court said, "The trial court acted without jurisdiction in entering an injunction against the Election Commission. The judgment of the trial court is vacated and the complaint dismissed." Mayor Littlefield is continuing legal action to stop the recall.
- 2011, as part of the 2011 Wisconsin Senate recall elections, there were a number of failed recall petitions. Petitions against senators Lena Taylor (D), Spencer Coggs (D), Mark Miller (D), Glenn Grothman (R), Julie Lassa (D), Fred Risser (D), and Mary Lazich (R), were unsuccessful. Many senators had multiple recall petitions filed against them, and in the case of both Wirch and Hansen, one succeeded while others failed.
- 2011, an effort to recall Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was ended after organizers did not obtain enough petition signatures to appear on the ballot.
- 2011, a petition to recall Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna failed to obtain the necessary signatures to force a recall election.
- 2011, an attempt to prompt recall election of Trenton, New Jersey mayor Tony F. Mack failed to obtain enough support.
- 2011 recall of Alaska State Representative Kyle Johansen, rejected by the state's Division of Elections on October 10. Republicans in his district sponsored the recall when Johansen and fellow representative Charisse Millett left the House's majority caucus in a dispute over Johansen's role in the 27th Legislature. In 2012, Johansen ran for reelection as an independent and lost by a wide margin; Millett was reelected.
- 2012 recall of Wisconsin State Senator Pam Galloway. On March 16, 2012, Galloway announced her resignation from office due to health issues in her family.
- 2017: In Loveland, Ohio, Mayor Mark Fitzgerald resigned under pressure from a recall effort, and a move to replace him was declared invalid, leaving the city with no mayor for several months.
Article 72 of the Constitution of Venezuela enables the recall of any elected representative, including the President. This provision was used in the 2004 Venezuelan recall referendum, which attempted to remove President Hugo Chavez:
- Article 72: All [...] offices filled by popular vote are subject to revocation.
- Once one-half of the term of office to which an official has been elected has elapsed, a number of voters representing at least 20% of the registered voters in the affected constituency may petition for the calling of a referendum to revoke that official's mandate.
- When a number of voters equal to or greater than the number of those who elected the official vote in favour of the recall, provided that a number of voters equal to or greater than 25% of the total number of registered voters vote in the recall referendum, the official's mandate shall be deemed revoked and immediate action shall be taken to fill the permanent vacancy as provided for by this Constitution and by law.
- SANTANA, Alexander. O direito de revogação do mandato político representativo. Curitiba, 2004. 146 f. Monografia (Graduação em Direito) - Setor de Ciências Jurídicas, Universidade Federal do Paraná. (wrote in Brazilian Portuguese) English Title: The right of recall elected officials.
- Recall elections in the United Kingdom
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- Aristotle, Constitution of Athens 43.4
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Gustafson, Barry (2013). Labour's Path to Political Independence: Origins and Establishment of the New Zealand Labour Party, 1900-19. EBL ebooks online. Auckland University Press. ISBN 9781869405199. Retrieved 17 Feb 2019.
The 1914 election was fought primarily on the issues of the cost of living and the reform Government's handling of the 1913 strike. [...] Other questions [...] also unduly preoccupied the Labour candidates: constitutional matters, for example, such as proportional representation, the initiative, the abolition of the country quota, the referendum, and the recall of MPs.
- Proposed platform, 1916.
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Poroshenko responds to petition on recalling MPs, UNIAN (16 October 2015)
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- Joshua Spivak, History News Network, http://hnn.us/articles/1660.html
- Article V of the Articles of Confederation provided, "a power reserved to each state, to recall its delegates, or any of them, at any time within the year, and to send others in their stead, for the remainder of the Year."
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