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A recall election (also called a recall referendum, recall petition or representative recall) is a procedure by which, in certain polities, voters can remove an elected official from office through a referendum before that official's term of office has ended. Recalls, which are initiated when sufficient voters sign a petition, have a history dating back to the constitution in ancient Athenian democracy and feature in several current constitutions. In indirect or representative democracy, people's representatives are elected and these representatives serve for a specific period of time. However, where the facility to recall exists, if any representative comes to be perceived as not properly discharging their responsibilities, they can be called back with the written request of a specific number or proportion of voters. Even where they are legally available, recall elections are only commonly held in a small number of countries including the United States, Peru, Ecuador, and Japan. They are considered by groups such as ACE Electoral Knowledge Network the most rarely used form of direct democracy.
The processes for recall elections vary greatly by country and can be originated may in different ways. The process may be:
Indirect or "Top-down": The recall may only be triggered an official authority such as a government, parliament, or President.
Direct or "Bottom-up": A recall may be triggered by the public by the collection of signatures.
Canada does not have legislation allowing for recall elections on the federal level. The only province or territory with recall election laws currently in force is British Columbia.
The province of Alberta enacted recall legislation for Members of the Legislative Assembly in 1936 during the Social Credit government of William Aberhart. The legislation was repealed after a petition was introduced for the recall of Aberhart himself.
In 2020, the Government of Alberta announced it will introduce a bill allowing recall elections for Members of the Legislative Assembly, municipal governments, and school boards.
British Columbia's Recall and Initiative Act, enacted in 1995, provides a process for recalling members of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. Voters in a provincial riding can petition to have their Member of the Legislative Assembly removed from office once said MLA has been in office for at least 18 months. If over 40 percent of registered voters in the riding sign the petition and the petition is validated by Elections BC, the Chief Electoral Officer informs the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and the member in question that the member has been recalled and their seat vacated. A by-election is called by the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia as soon as possible to fill the vacant seat. The recalled MLA is permitted to run in the recall by-election for their former seat. Twenty-six recall petitions have been launched as of 2020[update]; of the six completed petitions returned to Elections BC, five were rejected for having too few valid signatures. The sixth, on the recall of MLA Paul Reitsma, was halted after Reitsma resigned in 1998 during the secondary verification stage.
In Colombia, the recall referendum was included by the constitution in 1991. The constitutional replacement was launched as an answer to the movement known as la séptima papeleta (the seventh ballot), which requested a constitutional reform to end violence, narcoterrorism, corruption and increasing citizenship apathy. The definition of recall referendum in relation to programmatic vote was approved.[clarification needed] It obliges candidates running for office to register a government plan which is later on considered to activate the recall.[clarification needed] Since the time the mechanism was regulated by Law 134 in 1994, until 2015, 161 attempts led 41 referendums and none of them succeeded since the threshold of participation was not reached. In 2015, a new law (303/2015) reduced the number of signatures required to activate a recall referendum (from 40 per cent to 30 per cent of the total of votes obtained by the elected authority) and the threshold (dropping from the 50 per cent to the 40 per cent of valid votes on the day of the elections of the challenged authority). The change in the regulation, also quickening the registration of promoters, led to a considerable increase in the number of attempts.
People in enjoyment of political rights may revoke the mandate of popularly elected authorities. The request for revocation of the mandate may be submitted once the first and before the last year of the period for which the authority in question was elected. During the management period of an authority, only one process of revocation of the mandate may be carried out. The revocation request must be supported by a number not less than ten percent of people registered in the corresponding electoral registry. In the case of the President of the Republic, the support of a number not less than fifteen percent of those registered in the electoral registry will be required.
-- Article 105 of the Constitution of Ecuador (translated from Spanish)
Mayors may be recalled in 11 out of the 16 states of Germany. In a majority of these states recall elections are indirect, meaning that they only take place after a motion of no confidence from the municipal council of the city. A supermajority vote is normally needed to start the recall process from the council. Four states also allow the direct recall, where citizens may sign a petition to trigger the recall vote.
Article 18, Section 3 of the Constitution of Bavaria provides, that the entire Landtag can be dismissed by referendum on petition of 1 Million citizens, with elections of a new Landtag to be held up to six weeks after the recall referendum. The recall of specific members however, is not provided for.
Article 14: Not less than one tenth of electors has the right to initiate a national referendum regarding recalling of the Saeima.
If the majority of voters and at least two thirds of the number of the voters who participated in the last elections of the Saeima vote in the national referendum regarding recalling of the Saeima, then the Saeima shall be deemed recalled.
The right to initiate a national referendum regarding recalling of the Saeima may not be exercised one year after the convening of the Saeima and one year before the end of the term of office of the Saeima, during the last six months of the term of office of the President, as well as earlier than six months after the previous national referendum regarding recalling of the Saeima.
The electors may not recall any individual member of the Saeima.
Article 10 of the constitution of the Philippines allows for the recall of local officials. The Local Government Code, as amended, enabled the application of the provisions of the constitution. Elected officials from provincial governors to the barangay councilors are potentially subject to recall. At least 25% of the electorate in a specific place must have their signatures verified in a petition in order for the recall to take place.
The president, vice president, members of Congress, and the elected officials of the Bangsamoro cannot be removed via recall.
Recall regulations were introduced in Peru by the Democratic Constituent Congress (Congreso Constituyente Democrático) which drafted a new constitution after Alberto Fujimori's autogolpe in 1992. Between 1997 and 2013, more than 5000 recall referendums were activated against democratically elected authorities from 747 Peruvian municipalities (45.5% of all municipalities). This makes Peru the world's most intensive user of this mechanism.
While recalls are not provided for at the federal level in Switzerland, six cantons allow them:
Bern: Recall of the executive and legislative has been possible since 1846. 30,000 signatures (4% of all adult citizens) are required to trigger a recall referendum. There has been one unsuccessful attempt to recall the executive in 1852 (the 'Schatzgelder' affair).
Schaffhausen: Recall of the executive and legislative has been possible since 1876. 1,000 signatures (2% of all adult citizens) are required to trigger a recall referendum. There has been one unsuccessful attempt to recall the executive in 2000, triggered by the lawyer and cantonal MP Gerold Meier.
Solothurn: Recall of the executive and legislative has been possible since 1869. 6,000 signatures (3% of all adult citizens) are required to trigger a recall referendum. There has been one unsuccessful attempt to recall the executive and legislative in 1995 (related to a banking scandal). Three further attempts (in 1887, 1961 and 1973) failed to collect the necessary number of signatures.
Ticino: Recall of the executive has been possible since 1892. 15,000 signatures (7% of all adult citizens) are required to trigger a recall referendum. There has been one unsuccessful recall attempt in 1942. In addition, recall of municipal executives has been possible since 2011. Signatures of 30% of all adult citizens are required to trigger a recall referendum.
Thurgau: Recall of the executive and legislative has been possible since 1869. 20,000 signatures (13% of all adult citizens) are required to trigger a recall referendum. There have been no recall attempts.
Uri: Recall of the executive and legislative has been possible since 1888. Since 1979, 600 signatures (3% of all adult citizens) have been required to trigger a recall referendum. In addition, recall of municipal executives and legislatives has been possible since 2011. Signatures of 10% of registered voters are required to trigger a recall referendum. There have been no recall attempts either at the cantonal or municipal levels.
The possibility of recall referendums (together with the popular election of executives, the initiative and the legislative referendum) was introduced into several cantonal constitutions after the 1860s in the course of a broad movement for democratic reform. The instrument has never been of any practical importance--the few attempts at recall so far have failed, usually because the required number of signatures was not collected--and it was abolished in the course of constitutional revisions in Aargau (1980), Baselland (1984) and Lucerne (2007). The only successful recall so far happened in the Canton of Aargau in the year 1862. However, the possibility of recalling municipal executives was newly introduced in Ticino in 2011, with 59% of voters in favor, as a reaction to the perceived problem of squabbling and dysfunctional municipal governments.
Article 142. It is the duty of every deputy to report to his electors on his work and on the work of the Soviet of Working People's Deputies, and he is liable to be recalled at any time in the manner established by law upon decision of a majority of the electors.
In Taiwan, according to the Additional Articles of the Constitution, the recall of the president or the vice president shall be initiated upon the proposal of one-fourth of all members of the Legislative Yuan, and also passed by two-thirds of all the members. The final recall must be passed by more than one-half of the valid ballots in a vote in which more than one-half of the electorate in the free area of the Republic of China takes part.
On 6 June 2020, mayor of Kaohsiung, Han Kuo-yu, became the first mayor to be recalled. 939,090 votes within 969,259 agreed the recall.
The Recall of MPs Act 2015 (c. 25) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which allows a recall petition to be held if a Member of Parliament did certain wrongdoings, including being sentenced to prison for up to a year (longer sentences result in automatic disqualification). The petitions cannot be triggered by popular initiative, but rather are automatic and administered by the local returning officer for parliamentary elections, who is designated as petitions officer for this purpose. If the subsequent recall petition is successful, by being signed by at least 10% of the electorate, a by-election is called. It received Royal Assent on 26 March 2015 after being introduced on 11 September 2014. On 1 May 2019, Fiona Onasanya became the first MP to be removed from office after a successful recall petition.
Submitting petitions for the recall of Seattle, Washington mayor Hiram Gill in December 1910; Gill was removed by a recall election the following February, but voters returned him to the office in 1914
Recall first appeared in Colonial America in the laws of the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631. This version of the recall involved one elected body removing another official. During the American Revolution, the Articles of Confederation stipulated that state legislatures might recall delegates from the Continental Congress. According to New York Delegate John Lansing, the power was never exercised by any state. The Virginia Plan, issued at the outset of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, proposed to pair recall with rotation in office and to apply these dual principles to the lower house of the national legislature. The recall was rejected by the Constitutional Convention. However, the anti-Federalists used the lack of recall provision as a weapon in the ratification debates.
Several states proposed adopting a recall for US senators in the years immediately following the adoption of the Constitution. However, it did not pass.
In Alaska, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Rhode Island, and Washington, specific grounds are required for a recall. Some form of malfeasance or misconduct while in office must be identified by the petitioners. The target may choose to dispute the validity of the grounds in court, and a court then judges whether the allegations in the petition rise to a level where a recall is necessary. In the November 2010 general election, Illinois passed a referendum to amend the state constitution to allow a recall of the state's governor, in light of former Governor Rod Blagojevich's corruption scandal. In the other eleven states that permit statewide recall, no grounds are required and recall petitions may be circulated for any reason. However, the target is permitted to submit responses to the stated reasons for recall.
The minimum number of signatures to qualify a recall, and the time limit to do so, vary among the states. In addition, the handling of recalls, once they qualify, differs. In some states a recall triggers a simultaneous special election, where the vote on the recall, as well as the vote on the replacement if the recall succeeds, are on the same ballot. In the 2003 California recall election, over 100 candidates appeared on the replacement portion of the ballot. In other states, a separate special election is held after the target is recalled, or a replacement is appointed by the Governor or some other state authority.
In 2011, there were at least 150 recall elections in the United States. Of these, 75 officials were recalled, and nine officials resigned under threat of recall. Recalls were held in 17 states in 73 different jurisdictions. Michigan had the most recalls (at least 30). The year set a record for number of state legislator recall elections (11 elections) beating the previous one-year high (three elections).
Three jurisdictions adopted the recall in 2011.
1977 recall of County Judge Archie Simonson, Madison, Wisconsin
1977 recall of Five members of the La Crosse School Board, La Crosse, Wisconsin
1983 recall of Michigan state senators Phil Mastin and David Serotkin due to their support for a state income tax hike. Loss of these two Democratic lawmakers, along with two special elections won by Republicans, flipped the state senate to GOP control, where it has remained ever since (as of January 2021).
2002 recall of multiple Milwaukee County, Wisconsin elected county officials including Executive F. Thomas Ament (resigned before election); Board Chair Karen Ordinans; and Board Supervisors Penny Podell, LeAnn Launstein, David Jasenski, Kathy Arciszewski, James McGuigan, and Linda Ryan. All were recalled due to a retirement pension controversy.
2011 recall of Neal Knight, Mayor of Cornelius, Oregon, and city councilors Mari Gottwald and Jamie Minshall, less than a year after their election, due to unhappiness over their votes to fire the city manager.
2011 recall of multiple Killeen, Texas elected city officials including Mayor Pro Tem Scott Cosper and four city council members.
2018 recall of Toledo, Oregon mayor Billie Jo Smith and two City Council members over allegations of malfeasance, wrongful termination of city employees, and conducting city business at secret meetings
Note: Wisconsin's Jim Holperin has the distinction of being the only U.S. politician to have been subjected to recall from service in two different legislative bodies: the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1990 and the Wisconsin State Senate in 2011. Both attempts were unsuccessful.
1988 Evan Mecham, Governor of Arizona, was scheduled for a recall election on May 17 of that year, after a successful petition drive (301,000 signatures). However, the Supreme Court of Arizona canceled the election, since Mecham had already been removed from office (via impeachment conviction) by the Senate on April 4.
2011, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled in November that the Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth did not have the jurisdiction in entering an injunction against the Hamilton County Election Commission. In its judgment summary the Appeals Court said, "The trial court acted without jurisdiction in entering an injunction against the Election Commission. The judgment of the trial court is vacated and the complaint dismissed." Mayor Littlefield is continuing legal action to stop the recall.
2011 recall of Alaska State Representative Kyle Johansen, rejected by the state's Division of Elections on October 10. Republicans in his district sponsored the recall when Johansen and fellow representative Charisse Millett left the House's majority caucus in a dispute over Johansen's role in the 27th Legislature. In 2012, Johansen ran for reelection as an independent and lost by a wide margin; Millett was reelected.
2012 recall of Wisconsin State Senator Pam Galloway. On March 16, 2012, Galloway announced her resignation from office due to health issues in her family.
2017: In Loveland, Ohio, Mayor Mark Fitzgerald resigned under pressure from a recall effort, and a move to replace him was declared invalid, leaving the city with no mayor for several months.
Article 72: All [...] offices filled by popular vote are subject to revocation.
Once one-half of the term of office to which an official has been elected has elapsed, a number of voters representing at least 20% of the registered voters in the affected constituency may petition for the calling of a referendum to revoke that official's mandate.
When a number of voters equal to or greater than the number of those who elected the official vote in favour of the recall, provided that a number of voters equal to or greater than 25% of the total number of registered voters vote in the recall referendum, the official's mandate shall be deemed revoked and immediate action shall be taken to fill the permanent vacancy as provided for by this Constitution and by law.
^Welp, Yanina (2016). "Recall referendums in Peruvian municipalities: A political weapon for bad losers or an instrument of accountability?". Democratization. 23 (7): 1162-1179. doi:10.1080/13510347.2015.1060222.
^Article V of the Articles of Confederation provided, "a power reserved to each state, to recall its delegates, or any of them, at any time within the year, and to send others in their stead, for the remainder of the Year."