Recall Election - United States

United States

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, Lynn Frazier, Governor 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. In 2012, Wisconsin's governor, Scott Walker became the first US governor to survive a recall election. Additionally, in 1988, a recall was approved against Arizona Governor Evan Mecham, 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 in light of ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich's corruption scandal. In the other eleven states that permit state-wide 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 and the time limit to qualify a recall 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.

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