Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Year in Recalls: Coronavirus Rules, as elections/resignations drop to 80, but 434 attempted; 87 different recalls surrounding COVID pandemic

As with everything else in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had an overarching impact on recall elections. 2020 saw recall elections and resignations drop to the lowest level over the 10 years I’ve been compiling the data. However, we also saw a big increase in recall attempts from last year. As I note in this Newsweek op-ed, for the first time, one issue transcended state and local borders and led a boom in recall attempts across the country – the response to the pandemic.

In 2020, we had only 80 recalls succeed in getting a result, with 42 officials kicked out, 14 resigned and 24 survived the vote. Two of the officials who survived the vote did so because of Idaho’s “Queen of the Hill” law that requires turnout to top their previous election. Additionally, six recalls seemed to get enough signatures, but were not scheduled because of the pandemic. The drop in recalls getting to the ballot was not a surprise – collecting during a pandemic seemed to be an almost impossible task. 

As a comparison, in 2019, 87 officials faced a recall vote (37 removals, 16 resignations, 34 survived). That total was itself a steep drop from previous years, as noted below. 

What did change was an increase in recall attempts. I tracked at least 434 purported recall attempts, an increase from the 344 in 2019. Recalls seem to go up in even-numbered years (see the 2019 recall post for some thoughts on why), so that is not a surprise. What is different is that recalls are rarely about on a specific national topic. In general, they are locally focused on subjects such as firing a City Manager, closing a school or allowing a development. Most of the recalls this year fit into those categories, though a good number of those many of these recalls were started before the pandemic.

Of those attempts, 87 were focused on the COVID pandemic shutdown. 80 of them targeted officials who supported provisions designed to stem the spread of the disease. 

That said, only two officials actually faced the voters and one of them (Oregon City’s Mayor) opposed masks and social distancing. Both of these officials, a school board member in White Pine, Idaho and the Mayor of Oregon City, Oregon, were removed. Three other school board members, two in West Ada, Idaho and one in Appleton, Wisconsin resigned. The West Plains, Missouri Mayor is scheduled to resign, but he has stated that it is not over his position in favor of protective measures. The Auburn, California Mayor died in plane crash while signatures were being collected. And a Commissioner in Enid, Oklahoma may yet get to the ballot, depending on the results of a State Supreme Court case being argued in February. There may also be upcoming School Board recalls  in Pocatello/Chubbuck and Idaho Falls, Idaho over the pandemic.  

The Black Lives Matters/Police Shooting protests were the other significant source of recalls attempts, but that was a smaller number (somewhere between 15-30 attempts -- there is a lot of leeway in how you would judge those recall efforts.) The most notable among these was likely Seattle's Mayor

The efforts that received significant attention were the 14 recall attempts against Governors. Only 19 Governors throughout the country are eligible to face a recall. Last year, Republicans began targeting Democratic governors even before they took office.  This year, Covid was the issue for 12 of 14 of them attempts. While Alaska’s was very noteworthy, including a big State Supreme Court decision, the coronavirus seems to have stopped it for now. California Governor Gavin Newsom is by now the most serious. I’ll have a bit more to say on it after some op-eds I’ve written run. 

 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). 19 States saw recall votes or resignations this year. I generally do not count the Native American tribal chair and trustee recalls in my compilation (unfortunately, they are very difficult to track).  I also do not count home owners associations, unions or college governments. There were also noteworthy recalls globally, especially in Taiwan and Japan, but they are also not included. 

 What can we expect in 2021? More of the same. The first recall is scheduled for January 4.


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