Sunday, March 14, 2021

Idaho: Does the March 9 Idaho recall results show evidence in how pandemic-focused elections will turn?

What is the electoral impact of the pandemic and the shutdown? This is important for the Gavin Newsom recall, but also for the longer term scope of 2022. As we've seen with the 87 recall attempts in 2020, the pandemic unleashed a good deal of voter anger, and a good portion of that was on the right side of the aisle. 80 of those recalls were started by voters who were opposed to the shutdown requirements designed to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Last year we saw only two officials actually face 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 a plane crash while signatures were being collected. A recall against Commissioner in Enid, Oklahoma (and one in Norman, thought that had other issues involved as well) were thrown out by the State Supreme Court case.

But now we have some new results and while these are small jurisdictions, they may shine some light on the issue.

A small subset of recall elections in Idaho on March 9th gave us a first glimpse of how voters may feel on the downslope of the pandemic and how elected officials who supported shutdowns may be treated. School boards were targeted in the recall efforts and they are well represented here. While obviously this is a small sample of low population jurisdictions, it may point out that any fever for recalls over the shutdown could be waning. 

For the Newsom effort, we should keep in mind that Idaho is practically the mirror image of California. All state level officials are Republican -- the last Democratic Senator was elected in 1974, the last Governor in 1986.  The state legislature is veto-proof dominated by Republicans. Perhaps most importantly, the state voted for Donald Trump by 30%, almost the exact opposite of California's 29% for Biden. 

Idaho seems to be a perfect place to see voters kick out their elected officials over the pandemic. And on Tuesday March 9, seven officials in five separate jurisdictions faced recall votes. But all survived their vote. One recall (the mayor of Plummer) seemed to have nothing to do with the pandemic. The others, especially the five school board members did. 

Idaho has an interesting provision in its recall laws, one that, for lack of a better term, we will copy Congress and call it a "Queen of the Hill" law. In Idaho, a recall is an up or down vote on the elected official. But for it to succeed, not only do you need a majority of the vote in favor of recall, you also need the vote total to top the amount of votes the candidate won in the last election. As an example, Idaho Governor Brad Little won election in 2018 with 361,661 votes. If he faced a recall not only would they need to have a majority vote to remove, that majority would have to be at least 361,662 voters.  

This law only came into effect in the Plummer recall. All the other recalls were significant victories by the candidates. 

All three Pocatello/Chubbuck School Board Trustees, Jackie Cranor (677-708)  Janie Gebhardt (674-959) and Dave Mattson (782-1055), survived the recall vote.  

Idaho Falls School Board Trustee Elizabeth Cogliati survived a recall vote, with nearly 60% in her favor.  183-272. The recall would have failed unless 221 people voted for removal. 

Nampa School Board member Mike Kipp survived a recall vote 436-497 (46.7% - 53.3%). 

Hagerman City Mayor Alan Jay survived a recall vote, 116-129. The complaints seem all over the place, including a Covid pandemic issue, but there are complaints about enforcement of the city codes and alleged misappropriation of funds. They needed 162 votes. 

Is this just some small subset of the population? Or is this a real statement that voters may have been upset enough about the shutdowns to sign petitions, but now are not willing to kick someone out over it?

*** Just some point about the nomenclature. As opposed to the Queen of the Hill rule (used when several amendments are trying to impact a law, so the one with the most votes wins), a King of the Hill provision is when the last vote is the one that counts, no matter if an earlier one gets the most votes. I have used the phrase Absentee Veto provision (where a recall vote must exceed a certain turnout number -- say 30% of the electorate must vote, making it more valuable to sit it out than to vote against. This provision is used frequently overseas).


  1. You missed the Santa Cruz, Ca. recall of two councilmembers last March. Anti-vaxers started petition effort to oust two pro-housing the homeless, rent control, and larger community conversation councilmembers. Then the corporate real estate and developer set stepped in to fund the recall and get their two pro-luxury condo dev. candidates elected after recalling the sitting councilmembers.

  2. Thanks, though that was a bit earlier -- the recall got on the ballot before the virus, so I would consider it more about other issues. The virus was a minor issue that petitioners grabbed on to at the end of fight:


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