Thursday, January 2, 2020

The Year in Recalls -- 87 Recalls; 37 removals, 34 survive, 16 resignations; 342 recall efforts

Despite a huge spike in interest on the gubernatorial and state legislative level, the practical results saw a downturn -- 2019 saw a significant drop in actual recall elections getting to the ballot or leading to a resignation.

In 2019, we have 87 recalls, with 37 removals, 16 resignations in the face of a recall campaign and 34 officials surviving a vote. Five of the officials who survived the vote did so based on what I call an Queen of the Hill (the vote against didn't top the winner's results in the last election) or Absentee Veto (turnout wasn’t high enough for the recall to count).

Most surprising is that removals and survivals were nearly identical. Usually, removals are more likely to happen – with about 60% of recalls resulting in the official being kicked out in a vote, and almost 67% being ousted when you factor in the resignations

The total number of recall attempts also dropped off, as I count 342 efforts over all.

For comparison, 2018 (which I never published) saw 150 recalls make the ballot or lead to a resignation, with 85 removals, 28 resignations and 37 survivals.
In 2017, we had 102 recalls, 2016, we have 119 recalls. In 2015, there were 109; 2014 (which, I never actually wrote up), 126 recalls. In 2013, we had 107 recalls2012 we had 166, and a 2011 we had 151 (the numbers do not always exactly match up to the links – I checked back and found additional recalls and removed a few).

Ballotpedia, which has been an invaluable ally in covering recalls, also noted a big drop-off (I have a few more recalls listed than they do, but partly that is because two of the recalls happened in the last two weeks of the year).

This see-sawing does fit with a general pattern. Recalls are more likely in the even numbered national election years (presidential or Congress), rather than in the odd numbered years. This may seem somewhat counterintuitive (as some of these officials are facing the voters that year anyway), but there are practical reasons. I’ve mentioned these before, but here it is again:

  1. The lock-up or grace periods – many jurisdictions have a period where officials are exempt from facing a recall or (in some cases) even having petitions taken out against them. This period can range from three months to a year after their term begins (which is usually in January). Since so many officials are elected in even-year elections, there is less chance to get a recall on the ballot.
  2. Consolidation – states are frequently required to consolidate recalls with the next primary or general election, thereby obviating the need and expense of a special election. Michigan, one of the leading recall states, changed its law in 2012 to consolidate elections. The result is that a number of recalls are pushed off until 2020.
  3. 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.
  4. Paywalls -- Newspapers and websites are increasingly behind paywalls. Local sites that are critical to doing this research (there is no state or local governmental reporting) 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.
One factor that I had previously considered is that there was a drop-off in political interest and enthusiasm in off-years. While this is possibly, I do find it somewhat unlikely in our current political climate.

20 States saw recall votes or resignations this year. I generally do not count the Native American tribal chair and trustee recalls in my compilation (I saw two take place), though I did count the Alamo Navajo School Board recall in New Mexico.  I also do not count home owners associations, unions or college governments.

Outside of the gubernatorial and state legislative recall efforts – the one in Alaska is ongoing – the most notable recall was likely the one in Fall River, Massachusetts, where Mayor Jaisel Correia II lost the recall but won the five-person replacement race. There was also the recall in Newton Falls, where Councilman John Baryak won the recall race and reelection on the same day. Bayrak had previously been ousted in a recall, so this must have been particularly sweet. On the other side of the spectrum, Huntington Mayor Richard Cummings was ousted after surviving a 2018 recall vote.

What can we expect in 2020? Plenty of recalls. At least 30 are already scheduled, with the first set to take place on January 7.

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