Monday, December 30, 2013

The Year in Recalls -- 107 (update 108) Recalls in 2013; 478 attempts -- 73 officials ousted or resigned

Here's my article in The Week discussing the Year in Recalls. The article is focused on the motives for the recalls and how the recall is becoming a normal part of the American political life. On the blog, I would like to take a deeper look at the numbers.

This is my third year compiling detailed recall data (the second using recall attempts), and we saw a steep drop off in recalls. In 2011, we had 151. In 2012, we had 168, with 509 attempts. In 2013, we have (updated) 108 recalls with 478 attempts. Of those 108 recalls, 73 were ousted; 51 officials lost a race, and another 22 resigned -- a 68% removal rate. 35 survived the vote. As in the past, these number probably understate the amount of recalls that took place.

We'll get to reasons for the drop-off in a minute. First, some stats:
  • Once again, we've had recalls (or resignations in the face of recalls) in 20 states. 
  • California was the state with the most recalls, followed by Maine. This is a change from the last two years, where Michigan led the country. We'll discuss that change below.
  • Colorado had the only state-level recalls; Two officials lost their seat, and one resigned.
  • The reasons for recalls were all over the map. The most prominent were gun control issues, in Colorado's Senate, in Exeter, Maine, an upcoming one in Idaho and discussions in California, Nevada and Arizona. However, there were plenty of other reasons for recalls for firings, zoning issues, corruption, city bankruptcies (notably, San Bernardino) and, of course, the San Diego mayor.
  • Judicial Rejection played a big role in stopping recalls from happening -- 19 recalls were rejected by Judges; Administrative officers also killed 7 of them; and clarity hearing in Michigan have been holding up recalls throughout the state.
  • At least three jurisdictions added the recall (Rock Hall, Maryland; Ronda, North Carolina, Rising Sun, Maryland) At least two others may have (it is very unclear). One jurisdiction, West Gardiner, Maine, rejected a recall law.
  • First time I've ever seen one against a Coroner.
  • I did not include the numerous recalls in Native American Tribes; I saw at least 13 of those. The procedures seem a little different, though I may provide a separate breakdown in the coming days.
  • I also did not include recalls in Homeowners Associations and Property Owners Groups. Lot of those as well.
  • Recalls were also a big hit internationally, with the mayors of Warsaw, Poland and Lima, Peru both surviving recall votes. 
So the big question, is why the drop-off?

1) The lock-up period -- In a number of places, recalls cannot be started until an elected official holds office for a certain length of time -- some have it two, three or six months, others prevent a recall for a full year. 2012 was a presidential election year, which probably sees the largest number of offices up for election. Therefore, more officials are protected under the lock-up period. This may explain why there is a much greater drop off in actual recalls than in attempted recalls. It's hard to prove this one, especially since 2011 should have had a lock-up period as well, but this is certainly one cause.

2)  Post-Presidential Election Year -- it may be that after a fevered political campaign year, political participation drops off. We would need another four years of data to check this one, but this can't be ruled out.

3) Michigan changed its law -- This one is definitely a factor, Last year, Michigan changed its recall law. One of the big changes was mandating that officials can't face a recall until they serve one year in office (or six months if the term is 2 years). Another is requiring that recall petitions meet a factual test. Michigan's recalls dropped from 31 in 2011 to 25 in 2012 to 13 this year (and at least three of those got on the ballot under the old law). 

4) Operator error -- I'm fairly certain that I missed recalls. I've compared it to other available sources (the good people at Ballotpedia have done an excellent job of compiling data), but there is no question that recalls are not being counted. However, I like to think that I've at least maintained my existing level of incompetency, and any errors this year would probably be roughly the same as last year.

5) Paywalls -- More and more newspapers and websites are covered behind paywalls. Local sites that report on recalls seem to be failing at an increased rate. I think the closing off of the web may make it harder to see recalls and reports of recalls. I can't say that it is the real factor though.

That said, recalls seem to be embedded in American politics, and seems to be playing a larger role on the state, which is itself impacting national politics. We saw it in Wisconsin in 2011-12 and we saw it in Colorado in 2013. We'll wait and see if any major recalls come up, but be assured that there will be plenty to look for -- in fact,  there are recalls already scheduled for January 2.

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