A recall election (also called a recall referendum, recall petition or representative recall) is a procedure by which, in certain polities, voters can remove an elected official from office through a referendum before that official's term of office has ended. Recalls appear in the constitution in ancient Athenian democracy.[1] Even where they are legally available, recall elections are only commonly held in a small number of countries including Peru, Ecuador, and Japan.[2] They are considered by groups such as ACE Electoral Knowledge Network as the most rarely used form of direct democracy.[3]

Process

The processes for recall elections vary greatly by country and can be originated in different ways.

Initiating a recall

This can be done in two ways:

Costs

The scheduling of a recall outside of normal elections means large additional expenses to run an extra election (or two). For example, the 2021 California Gubernatorial recall election cost taxpayers an additional $300 million[6] for an election that the governor won 61.9% to 38.1%.[7]

Turnout

Many recall elections take place in off-years, resulting in much lower voter turnout than regularly-scheduled elections.

Education

Some recall elections have different rules than normal elections, requiring voter education and outreach.

By country

Argentina

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).[8]

Canada

An attempt at introducing recall legislation for Canada's federal Parliament was brought in October 1999 by Reform Party opposition member Ted White through a private members bill entitled Bill C 269, the Recall Act (An Act to establish the right of electors to recall members of Parliament.).[9] However, the legislation stalled and did not progress past first reading.[10]

As such, no nation-wide recall statute exists, but two provinces, Alberta and British Columbia[11][12] have recall laws on the books.

Alberta

The province of Alberta enacted recall legislation for Members of the Legislative Assembly in 1936 during the Social Credit government of William Aberhart.[11] The legislation was repealed after a petition was introduced for the recall of Aberhart himself.[11][13]

In 2020, the Government of Alberta announced it will introduce a bill allowing recall elections for Members of the Legislative Assembly, municipal governments, and school boards.[14] This bill, Bill 52, was passed and received Royal Assent June 17, 2021, and came into effect on April 7, 2022.[15]

British Columbia

British Columbia's Recall and Initiative Act, enacted in 1995, provides a process for recalling members of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia.[12] Voters in a provincial riding can petition to have their Member of the Legislative Assembly removed from office once said MLA has been in office for at least 18 months. If over 40 percent of registered voters in the riding sign the petition and the petition is validated by Elections BC, the Chief Electoral Officer informs the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and the member in question that the member has been recalled and their seat vacated. A by-election is called by the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia as soon as possible to fill the vacant seat. The recalled MLA is permitted to run in the by-election for their former seat. Twenty-six recall petitions have been launched as of 2020; of the six completed petitions returned to Elections BC, five were rejected for having too few valid signatures.[12] The sixth, on the recall of MLA Paul Reitsma, was halted after Reitsma resigned in 1998 during the secondary verification stage.[11]

Colombia

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.[clarification needed] It obliges candidates running for office to register a government plan which is later on considered to activate the recall.[clarification needed] 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.[16]

Cuba

According to its constitution, Cuba is a socialist republic in which all members of representative bodies of state power are subject to recall by the masses.[17] As a principle of soviet democracy, similar recall provisions have been included in the constitutions of many other communist countries, including that of the Soviet Union. Although allowable according to law, in practice the right of recall was never used in any soviet system of government, except for an attempt in Hungary in 1989.[18]

Ecuador

Article 105 of the 2008 Constitution of Ecuador provides for recall of all elected officials:

People in enjoyment of political rights may revoke the mandate of popularly elected authorities. The request for revocation of the mandate may be submitted once the first and before the last year of the period for which the authority in question was elected. During the management period of an authority, only one process of revocation of the mandate may be carried out. The revocation request must be supported by a number not less than ten percent of people registered in the corresponding electoral registry. In the case of the President of the Republic, the support of a number not less than fifteen percent of those registered in the electoral registry will be required.

— Article 105 of the Constitution of Ecuador (translated from Spanish)

Germany

Mayoral Recalls

Mayors may be recalled in 11 out of the 16 states of Germany. In a majority of these states recall elections are indirect, meaning that they only take place after a motion of no confidence from the municipal council of the city. A supermajority vote is normally needed to start the recall process from the council. Four states also allow the direct recall, where citizens may sign a petition to trigger the recall vote.

Process of recalling mayors in Germany
State Year of

introduction

Requires either: Turnout requirement of recall vote

(Percentage of Voters)

Signatures

(percentage of citizens)

Municipal councilors

vote

 Brandenburg 1993 15-20% 2/3 25%
 Hesse 1993 Not available 2/3 30%
 Lower Saxony 1996 Not available 3/4 25%
 Mecklenburg-Vorpommern 1999 Not available 2/3 33.33%
 North Rhine-Westphalia 1999 15-20% 2/3 25%
 Rhineland-Palatinate 1994 Not available 2/3 30%
 Saarland 1994 Not available 2/3 30%
 Saxony 1994 33.33% 3/4 50%
 Saxony-Anhalt 1994 Not available 3/4 30%
 Schleswig-Holstein 1997 20% 2/3 20%
 Thuringia 1994 Not available 1/2 30%
Source[19]

State parliaments

The recall of members of the state parliaments of Germany exist in five states; Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, and Rhineland-Palatinate. All of these states only allow for the recall of the entire legislature by triggering a new election, the recall of individual members is not allowed.[20]

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.

India

See also: Right to Recall laws in India

Kiribati

Section 69 of the Constitution of Kiribati provides for a majority of electors in a district (who were electors of the district at the time of the original election) to sign a petition requesting a recall election. The recall election must not occur less than 6 months after the original election or a failed recall attempt. If the recall election is successful another election to fill the seat must be held within 3 months.

Latvia

Article 14 of the Constitution of Latvia enables the recall of the entire Saiema, though not of specific representatives:

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.

Mexico

See also: 2022 Mexican presidential recall referendum

In Mexico, the State of Yucatán was the first to introduce the recall in 1938. The mechanism, which had never been used, was declared unconstitutional 72 years later by the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation. A similar mechanism introduced in Chihuahua in 1997 was also declared unconstitutional and consequently eliminated from law. Despite these precedents, the recall was later included in the states of Oaxaca (1998), Morelos (2011), Guerrero (2013), Zacatecas and Aguascalientes.[21]

New Zealand

Early policies of the New Zealand Labour Party included support for "the recall".[22][23]

Philippines

Article 10 of the constitution of the Philippines allows for the recall of local officials. The Local Government Code, as amended, enabled the application of the provisions of the constitution. Elected officials from provincial governors to the barangay councilors are potentially subject to recall. At least 15% of the electorate in a specific place must have their signatures verified in a petition in order for the recall to take place.[24]

The president, vice president, members of Congress, and the elected officials of the Bangsamoro cannot be removed via recall.

The most recent recall election above the barangay level was the 2015 Puerto Princesa mayoral recall election.

Peru

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.[25]

Switzerland

While recalls are not provided for at the federal level in Switzerland, six cantons allow them:[26][27]

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.[26]

Soviet Union

Article 142 of The 1936 Constitution of the Soviet Union gave the right in theory to recall deputies in legislatures at all levels of government:

Article 142. It is the duty of every deputy to report to his electors on his work and on the work of the Soviet of Working People's Deputies, and he is liable to be recalled at any time in the manner established by law upon decision of a majority of the electors.

As a principle of soviet democracy, similar recall provisions have been widely copied in the constitutions of other communist countries, including those of Cuba, China, Vietnam, North Korea, and countries in the Eastern Bloc.[28] Although allowable according to law, in practice the right of recall was never used in any soviet system of government, except for an attempt in Hungary in 1989.[18]

Taiwan

In Taiwan, according to the Additional Articles of the Constitution, 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 in a recall election 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.[29]

Other elected officials can be recalled in elections by more than 1/4 of the total electors in the original electoral district, and where the number of votes consenting to the recall is more than that of dissenting.

On 6 June 2020, mayor of Kaohsiung, Han Kuo-yu, became the first mayor to be recalled. 939,090 votes within 969,259 agreed the recall.[30]

Ukraine

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.[31]

United Kingdom

Main article: Recall of MPs Act 2015

The Recall of MPs Act 2015 (c. 25) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which mandates a recall petition to be held if a Member of Parliament is found to have committed certain wrongdoings, including any that result in a custodial prison sentence. The petitions cannot be triggered by popular initiative. The subsequent recall petition is successful if signed by at least 10% of the electorate in the MPs constituency. Successful recall leads to a by-election to fill the seat.

The Act received Royal Assent on 26 March 2015 after being introduced on 11 September 2014.[32][33] The UK’s first recall petition occurred in 2018.

There are no recall procedures for other elected officials in the United Kingdom.

United States

History

Submitting petitions for the recall of Seattle, Washington, mayor Hiram Gill in December 1910; Gill was removed by a recall election the following February, but voters returned him to the office in 1914

Recall first appeared in Colonial America in the laws of the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631.[34] 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.[35] 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.

Only two governors have ever been 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,[36] but he was impeached and convicted before it got on the ballot.[37]

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. Anna Louise Strong, member of the Settle School board, was recalled from her position in 1918, apparently on grounds that she was supporting extreme labour positions.[38] 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.

The largest amount of recalls in the United States were held in 2021, as 529 officials faced recalls, but it had the lowest amount of successful recalls as only 25 were removed.[39]

2011 recalls

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.[40]

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.[40]

The busiest day was November 8 (Election Day) with 26 recalls. In 34 jurisdictions, recalls were held over multiple days.[40]

Successful recalls

Alaska
Arizona
California
Colorado
Florida
Idaho
Iowa
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Nebraska
New Jersey
North Dakota
Ohio
Oregon
Texas
Virginia
Washington
Wisconsin

Unsuccessful recalls

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.[79]

Unsuccessful attempts to qualify recall elections

Venezuela

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 Chávez:

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.

The 2004 recall referendum failed with 59.25% voting against removing Chavez from office.[94]

See also

Bibliography

References

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