Wednesday, June 22, 2011


There's an interesting article on recall elections in the Los Angeles Times. It notes the sudden increase in the number of recalls being filed successfully and also suggests some of the reasons behind that increase.

Once a political rarity, recall elections are surging in local and state governments. ...

Joshua Spivak, who studies recalls and blogs about them at, said there had been only 20 attempted recalls of state legislators in U.S. history. This year, 10 are already on the ballot. Much of that is because of an unprecedented outbreak of recalls in Wisconsin, where the newly elected Republican governor's proposal to limit the power of unions led to recalls against six Republican state senators who voted for the bill, and three Democrats who left the state to try to stop its passage.

Spivak said he thought recall attempts could increase along the lines of their electoral sibling, ballot initiatives, which once were rare but since the 1970s have been a fixture on election day. Recalls may end up the same way, he said.

"It is growing and it is something that people are seeing as a valuable tool against elected officials," he said, noting that more states are permitting recalls and that even Australia and England might follow suit. "People want more checks on their elected officials."

Indeed, the recall and initiative processes were both introduced last century as a means to hold elected officials more accountable, and to some extent they are being used in that fashion today, but with some decided twists. Back then, both were intended to give citizens a way to redress grievances when those they elected backslid on promises or became just a little too greedy. Now, they've become a double edged sword. Big money and corporations have gotten into the act, buying spots on the ballots for propositions that enhance bottom lines and destroying politicians who have gotten in the way of that goal. And a new industry, professional signature gatherers, has emerged which makes complying with election law easier.

Sadly, there's another reason the recall process has become easier. Most laws regarding qualifying a recall for a special election tie the number of signatures required to a percentage of votes cast in the last election. Because fewer people are actually voting these days, that isn't hard to do. In other words, citizens now want a mulligan because they couldn't be bothered to do their jobs the first time around.

That's a very expensive way to run a democracy.

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