WI Recall Update

Via the JSOnline: Panel OKs recall elections against 3 more Republicans.

This takes the total of Republican Senators up for recall this summer in Wisconsin to 6. There are petitions pending against 3 Democrats. The fact that the tally stands at 6 to 0 has created charges of bias. On that latter point, the article provides no way to really evaluate those claims.

What I find interesting about the entire affair is that it represents the most dramatic example of deployment of the recall process that I am aware of. At a minimum, 6 (and likely 9) members of a legislative body will face recall at roughly the same time, and all in response to a specific policy issue. It is a rather remarkable display of democracy. That represents, by the way, 27.3% of the chamber (it has 33 seats).

For those whom have forgotten: a massive political conflict erupted in Wisconsin earlier in the year over the issue of collective bargaining rights for public sector employees.

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Interesting but I still don’t like the idea of “recall”

  2. James Joyner says:

    Yeah, not a fan, either. Either representatives should have fixed terms or there should be a parliamentary system in which governments rise and fall and the entire body is subject to re-election. This in-between thing basically means perpetual elections–and ones decided by tiny minorities of the population who care enough to show up in these sort of contests. That’s more mob rule than democracy.

    And, yes, that was my position during the Gray Davis mess:

    How Davis got re-elected, given his utter incompetence and lack of integrity, I can not understand. I certainly would have voted for virtually anyone running against him were I a California resident. That said, this movement strikes me as dangerous. It’s one thing to recall a politician who has committed a crime or some other serious breach while in office; it’s quite another to use it to get a second bite at the apple. Even if unsuccessful, this will cost the state a sizable amount of money and distract the elected officials, especially Davis, from doing the jobs to which they were elected. And, if successful, this will create a dangerous precedent similar to the Senate’s defeat of Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 1986. From now on, this will be considered a legitimate tactic for one party to attack a weak politician of the other party. Republicans were rightly upset by New Jersey Democrats for flouting the state’s election laws by swapping a losing candidate for a winner at the 11th hour; they should oppose this flouting of the spirit of California law just as vigorously.

  3. @James:

    ones decided by tiny minorities of the population who care enough to show up in these sort of contests

    Not to be an advocate for the process (I am more favorably disposed to the mechanism than either you or Doug, but do not have a really strong feeling about it): doesn’t this describe any election?

    It will be interesting to see what turnout is like for these contests, as clearly the whole brouhaha infused a lot of interest (and I think greater turnout) in the Supreme Court race.

    Given that these things proceed by known rules, and are quite rare, I can’t see how it is “mob rule,” however.

    For me, given that I study elections and the institutions that govern them, I simply find the whole thing cool in that regard.

  4. legion says:

    decided by tiny minorities of the population who care enough to show up in these sort of contests.
    I know it’s different from state tostate, but these people had to gather a butt-ton of signatures, by volunteer, and then get them all certified by a state board (no mean feat, considering that the recall attempts vs. Dems don’t seem to be getting that blessing).

    Basically, I think of it like “truth in advertising” laws for politicians. These guys, in particular the Governor, campaigned on a platform of certain principles – I’m not talking about specific promises made (though that certainly fuels voter regrets), I’m talking about basic governing concepts – that have turned out to be bald-faced lies. The voters want jobs, and an improved economy. The people they elected are doing nothing but eliminating programs and engaging in naked power grabs. I think voters have every right to engage in recalls given the proper hurdles to keep it from being frivolous or just another tool for party gridlock.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    As I recall, the votes for S.Ct. justice, which seemed largely influenced by the public union issue, were not very evenly distributed across the state. So I’m skeptical that the recalls would operate as a single-issue referendum unless there are some Republican legislators in odd districts.

    Republicans are more likely at risk from two factors:

    1. Low turnout;
    2. Lack of an alternative name on the ballot

    Neither of these two factors are terribly small d democratic.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    Or I could be wrong. The recalls might be instantaneous:

    Candidates who wish to run for the seat that will become vacant if the recall succeeds can collect signatures to have their name appear on the special recall election ballot. As a result, the seat can be made vacant (if voters approve the recall), and re-filled, on the same day and in the same election.

    However, if more than one person from a political party files to run in the special recall election, the recall election date becomes a de facto primary, and the final election must be held 4 weeks later.

    Strong democrats have announced for at least three of the seats, so the “recall” will likely be a de-facto re-election with an opponent’s name on the ballot.

  7. so the “recall” will likely be a de-facto re-election with an opponent’s name on the ballot.

    It appears to be shaping up that way, which is why I think it is especially interesting. I also think that turnout will end up being far higher than a normal recall (if there is such a thing, given their rarity).

    We shall see how things shape up. As I read it, the 6 Reps being recalled will have the same (un)election day, and the 3 Reps will as well. Ideally, all 9 should be on the same day, IMHO.

  8. MarkedMan says:

    If I recall correctly, the Democrats used great care in collecting the recall signatures, while the Republicans threw something together and there is a lot of confusion about their signatures and the way they were collected. For example, some Republican’s responsible didn’t seem to realize you are not allowed to hire people to collect signatures. So the election commission is spending more time reviewing the Republican petitions than the Democrats, but they only have themselves to blame.

  9. PD Shaw says:

    I don’t know if I would call these recalls though, as opposed to special elections. In a sense, the petitions have already recalled the last election, and the encumbant is free to run again in a special election. This is a different procedure than I think is normal (such as the Davis recall). I might slightly prefer this method, but generally would prefer legislators to be ultimately responsible at election time.

  10. Axel Edgren says:

    And they say union people are lazy…

  11. Unity Grace says:

    hi, Doug Mataconis: The idea that voters/citizens of this country have the right to recall a public official is Democracy in action. It is not an action taken lightly and it idemands credibility to the concern/concerns. Imagine doing it yourself. There are many many places in this world where there is no option against corruption. See MarkedMan comment…etc.