Using a recall against an elected official was once a rare tactic, a move reserved for the most corrupt officials. But now, with partisan tensions seemingly at all-time highs, the recall is becoming a more overt political tool, used more over ideological issues than over competence or ethics.
The numbers bear that out: There were at least 478 attempted recalls in 2013, 107 of which made it to the ballot. The high-profile ousters of two Colorado state Senate Democrats, and the resignation of a third, got the most attention, but officials in 19 other states lost their jobs.
That’s according to a count maintained by Joshua Spivak, author of the Recall Elections Blog, who has kept detailed track of recall efforts over the past several years. And according to Spivak, the number of recalls are actually down. There were 151 recalls that made the ballot in 2011, and 168 in 2012.
California had more recalls than any other state, with Maine coming in second place. But judges rejected 19 potential recalls, while administrative officers nixed another seven, according to Spivak’s data.
One of the reasons for a lower number of recalls is that Michigan, a state that once led the nation in recalls, changed its laws. Elected officials are no longer subject to recalls unless they have served a full year in office, and all recalls are subject to factual tests. The bottom line: While Michigan had 56 recalls between 2011 and 2012, only 13 officials faced recalls in 2013.
Several officials who faced a recall vote came under fire for policy reasons. The three Colorado state senators lost their jobs over their support for gun control legislation, and gun rights supporters have targeted officials in Maine and Idaho — and potentially three Western states — over gun control laws.
But you don’t have to hold partisan office to be recalled; in St. Tammany Parish, La., Coroner Peter Galvan resigned after being indicted on federal theft charges. His constituents had begun the process to oust him from office by collecting the 54,000 necessary signatures.