Recall Election, Once Reserved for Criminality, Is Now a Popular Political Tool

Friday, September 06, 2013
(AP photo)

At one time in American politics, the recall election was rarely used, and reserved for ousting politicians who had broken the law or committed ethical violations. But these days the recall campaign has become a popular tool of parochial politics embraced by both conservatives and liberals using it to remove elected officials whose transgressions amounted to making unpopular decisions.


There have been 32 successful recalls in the U.S. since 1911. However, a third of these (11) have occurred in just the last two years, according to Reid Wilson at The Washington Post.


Wilson found that “two factors are driving the new splurge of recall signature gathering: First, previously parochial politics are taking on a national flavor. Second, new technology available to political activists is lowering the once-high barrier to entry.”


Regarding the first factor, many of the recalls since 2011 have been launched by forces on the right and the left, such as unions going after state lawmakers for supporting laws limiting organized labor’s fundraising, or pro-gun enthusiasts seeking to oust legislators who voted for background checks on gun purchasers.


Inflamed passion over hot-button issues, from gay marriage and taxes to gun control and abortion, increasingly motivate frustrated activists and angry citizens to seek out some form of redress against public officials which, perhaps more often than not, ends up being the recall.


On the second factor cited by Wilson, recall campaigns have been aided by smartphones and access to the Web.


Conservatives in Colorado angry over new gun control laws used an iPhone app that allowed campaign workers to directly interface with the Secretary of State’s voter database. This meant that they could immediately verify whether a voter was eligible to sign their recall petition, and how they should sign it (to ensure their signature matched the one on file). The result was that 94% of the signatures proved to be valid—a big boost for putting the recall measure on the ballot.


“If anybody can get 12,000 signatures, or whatever’s needed to recall somebody on a singular vote that somebody’s upset about, you’re going to see both parties using the recall process in a very aggressive fashion,” Colorado Democratic strategist Rick Ridder told the Post.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

The Era of the Recall (by Reid Wilson, Washington Post)

The Best Way To Scare A Politician (by Alan Greenblatt, National Public Radio)

The Recall Elections Blog


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