California’s most recent spasm of electoral turmoil will come to a head on Oct. 7, when voters will decide whether or not to recall Gov. Gray Davis. Since the Golden State has a rep for setting national trends (think car culture or Internet startups), should the leaders of, say, Colorado and Connecticut be worried? How many states actually allow voters to recall a governor?
While most states allow governors to be impeached, only 18 states have voter-recall provisions. The states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin. But even if you live in one of those states, your budget deficit is spiraling out of control, and your governor can’t show his face without threat of bodily injury, you still may not be jumping on California’s recall bandwagon anytime soon. For one thing, although a California governor can be ousted for pretty much any reason, six of those other states require the chief executive to have committed specific wrongs. These include actual crimes and other malfeasance. For example, the governor of Alaska would be risking recall if convicted of a “crime involving moral turpitude.”
When it comes to gathering petition signatures to force a recall, California also has one of the easiest thresholds to meet. It requires only 12 percent of the number of people who actually voted in the last election to sign up. Most other recall states demand at least twice that, or 25 percent. In Kansas it’s 40 percent. Still, even though Californians have launched 31 previous efforts to recall governors, none has ever made it to the ballot before. In fact, only once in American history has a governor been shown the door in midterm by voters. That was in North Dakota in 1921. Recalls are much more common at the local level. According to the National Civic League, 61 percent of American cities allow such elections, and thousands have been successful over the years. And although most state recall laws date to the Progressive era in the early 20th century, the idea was present in America’s first governing document. The Articles of Confederation allowed states to recall their delegates to Congress at any time. However, today’s federal officeholders only have to worry about impeachment. Next question?
Explainer thanks the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Initiative and Referendum Institute.