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Recall election

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Title: Recall election  
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Subject: Snap election, Mark Allan Robinson, 2011 Wisconsin protests, Initiatives and referendums in the United States, By-election
Collection: Ballot Measures, Recall Elections, Right to Petition
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Recall election

A recall election (also called a recall referendum or representative recall) is a procedure by which voters can remove an elected official from office through a direct vote before his or her term has ended. Recalls, which are initiated when sufficient voters sign a petition, have a history dating back to the ancient Athenian democracy[1] and are a feature of several contemporary constitutions.


  • Canada 1
  • Switzerland 2
  • Ukraine 3
  • United States 4
    • 2011 recalls 4.1
    • Successful recalls 4.2
    • Unsuccessful recalls 4.3
    • Unsuccessful attempts to qualify recall elections 4.4
  • Venezuela 5
  • See also 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • References 8


The Province of British Columbia enacted representative recall in 1995. In that province, voters in a provincial riding can petition to have a sitting representative removed from office, even a Premier presently leading a government. If enough registered voters sign the petition, the Speaker of the legislature announces before the House that the member has been recalled and a by-election follows as soon as possible, giving voters the opportunity to replace the politician in question. By January 2003, 22 recall efforts had been launched. No one has been recalled so far, but one representative, Paul Reitsma, resigned in 1998 when it looked as if the petition to recall him would have enough signatures to spur a recall election. Reitsma resigned during the secondary verification stage, and the recall count ended.


While recalls are not provided for at the federal level in Switzerland, six cantons allow them:[2]

  • Bern: Recall of the executive and legislative is 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 ('Schatzgelder' affair).
  • Schaffhausen: Recall of the executive and legislative is 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 is 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 failed to collect the necessary number of signatures (1887, 1961, 1973).
  • Ticino: Recall of the executive is 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 is possible since 2011. Signatures of 30% of all adult citizens are required to trigger a recall referendum.
  • Thurgau: Recall of the executive and legislative is 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 is possible since 1888. Since 1979 600 signatures (3% of all adult citizens) are required to trigger a recall referendum. In addition, recall of municipal executives and legislatives is 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. But 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.[2]


A year after the 2015 Ukrainian local elections voters can achieve a recall election of an elected deputy or mayor if as many signatures as voters are collected.[3]

United States

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.[4] 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.[5] 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.

Only two governors have ever been successfully recalled. In 1921, Lynn Frazier, Governor of North Dakota, was recalled during a dispute about state-owned industries. In 2003, Governor Gray Davis of California was recalled over the state budget. In 2012, Wisconsin's governor, Scott Walker became the first US governor to survive a recall election.[6] Additionally, in 1988, a recall was approved against Arizona Governor Evan Mecham,[7] but he was impeached and convicted before it got on the ballot.[8]

In 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 2nd of November 2010 general election, Illinois passed a referendum to amend the state constitution to allow a recall in light of ex-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 and the time limit to qualify a recall 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.

2011 recalls

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.[9]

Of recall elections, 52 were for city council, 30 were for mayor, 17 were for school board, 11 were for state legislators, and one was for a prosecuting attorney (York County, Nebraska). The largest municipality to hold a recall was Miami-Dade County, Florida, for mayor.[9]

The busiest day was November 8 (Election Day) with 26 recalls. In 34 jurisdictions, recalls were held over multiple days.[9]

Successful recalls

Unsuccessful recalls

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.[25]

Unsuccessful attempts to qualify recall elections


Article 72 of the Constitution of Venezuela enables the recall of any elected representative, including the President. This provision was used in the Venezuelan recall referendum, 2004, which attempted to remove President Hugo Chavez:

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.

See also



  • Curitiba, 2004. 146 f. Monografia (Graduação em Direito) - Setor de Ciências Jurídicas, Universidade Federal do Paraná.O direito de revogação do mandato político representativo.SANTANA, Alexander. (wrote in Brazilian Portuguese) English Title: The right of recall elected officials.
  • Recall elections in the United Kingdom


  1. ^ Aristotle, Constitution of Athens 43.4
  2. ^ a b Jankovsky, Peter (22 March 2011). "Der Versuch, eine Exekutive zu stoppen".  
  3. ^ Local vote, global implications, Business Ukraine (1 October 2015)
    Poroshenko responds to petition on recalling MPs, UNIAN (16 October 2015)
    What the new Local Elections Law changed?, Ukrainian Crisis Media Center (8 September 2014)
  4. ^ Joshua Spivak, History News Network,
  5. ^ 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."
  6. ^ Carrol, Rory (6 June 2012). "Wisconsin governor Scott Walker survives bitterly fought recall election". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 June 2012. 
  7. ^ Watkins, Ronald J. (1990). High Crimes and Misdemeanors : The Term and Trials of Former Governor Evan Mecham. New York: William Morrow & Co. pp. 194–195, 274.  
  8. ^ "Arizona's Supreme Court Blocks A Special Gubernatorial Election". The New York Times. April 13, 1988. pp. A20:1. 
  9. ^ a b c
  10. ^ Burton J. Hendrick, "The 'Recall' in Seattle', McClure's, October 1911, p. 647–663.
  11. ^ "Idaho State Historical Society Reference Series, Corrected List of Mayors, 1867-1996" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-05-09. 
  12. ^ James, Michael S. (July 22, 1994). "River Vale Recall Vote Offers Two Slates Split by 911 Issue". The Bergen Record. 
  13. ^ a b "" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-05-09. 
  14. ^  
  15. ^, Wisconsin Constitution Article XIII, section 12
  16. ^ Fuller, Kathy (September 30, 2011). "Cornelius voters oust 'Team 3' from office". Hillsboro Argus ( 
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Sheboygan mayoral recall: Mayor Bob Ryan ousted from office by challenger Terry Van Akkeren". Sheboygan Press ( 
  19. ^ "Wisconsin June 5 recall election results". Milwakee Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel. June 6, 2012. Retrieved June 10, 2012. 
  20. ^ "RECALLED: Troy Mayor Janice Daniels Voted Out of Office". Troy Patch. November 7, 2012. Retrieved November 7, 2012. 
  21. ^ a b Lynn Barels, Kurtis Lee and Joey Bunch (September 10, 2013). "John Morse, Angela Giron ousted in historic Colorado recall election". Denver Post. Retrieved September 11, 2013. 
  22. ^  
  23. ^ Recall Election
  24. ^
  25. ^ The Milwaukee Journal, April 4, 1990; (retrieved 11/16/2013)
  26. ^ Frank Church Chronology
  27. ^ "Arizona's Supreme Court Blocks A Special Gubernatorial Election". The  
  28. ^ Daily Titan, "Group asks for Wilson's recall," by Matt Cliff (November 18th, 1992 - retrieved on June 18th, 2011).
  29. ^ Los Angeles Times, "VALLEY COLLEGE: Wilson Recall Campaign Started," by Jennifer Case (October 4th, 1992 - retrieved on June 19th, 2011).
  30. ^ [3]
  31. ^ [4]
  32. ^
  33. ^ "Tom Luna reacts to failure of recall efforts", Bryan Dooley, The Idaho Press-Tribune, June 28, 2011
  34. ^
  35. ^ "Recall application rejected," October 11, 2011KRBD,
  36. ^ Patrick Marley (March 16, 2012). "State Sen. Galloway to resign, leaving Senate split".  
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