In many ways, 2021 was the year of recall elections throughout the country, though not for the reasons that many may think. The California Gubernatorial recall was one of the big political stories of the year, but the many recalls against school board members were also in the news. But we saw some surprising developments as I discuss in this op-ed in The Hill.
This year saw the most recalls attempted since this blog started in 2011 -- at least 609 attempts. But unlike most years, when the recall gets to the ballot about one-quarter to one-third of the time, this year, most of the recalls went nowhere. Only 66 went to the ballot and 17 others resigned.
Even more unusual, for the first time more officials survived the vote than lost. Most recalls result in removal -- about 60% of the time (plus 6% resignations). This year, 40 officials survived the vote and only 26 were removed.
What explains this odd result? COVID and the laws designed to stop its spread. Most of the school board recalls were over COVID precautions. But few of them got to the ballot. And those that did failed. Only one of the apparently COVID-focused recalls (in Dodge County, Wisconsin) resulted in removal.
This actually fits well with the goals of the recall. The pandemic resulted in arguably the most extensive changes for every citizen's lives in US history. It's no surprise that there would be a political impact. But the results, as can be seen by both the failure to get signatures and failure to actually win elections, maybe viewed as effectively an endorsement of the restrictions.
As a comparison, 2020 saw 42 removals, 24 survived and 14 resignations, with 434 attempts. In 2019, 87 officials faced a recall vote (37 removals, 16 resignations, 34 survived). In 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 recalls. 2012 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.
The COVID recalls are tapering off, but we have plenty more awaiting us. Not only will the San Francisco District Attorney and San Francisco School Board have recalls, there are others as well. January 11 will see recalls in both Leyton and Waverly, Nebraska.