With the Alabama Senate considering a recall law for all officials throughout the state, voters could look north to the recall fights in Wisconsin and express some concern whether the state would become a brutal, political, three-ring circus. However, because of the way the potential Alabama law is structured, the likelihood of misuse is small. Alabama would be the 19th state to allow for recalls for state-level officials (an additional state, Illinois, allows it just for the governor). Alabama is already one of the 36 states that allow some municipalities to provide for a recall of local officials. Among those 18 states with the recall for state-level officials, there is a deep and very meaningful divide. Eleven of them have what is called a “political recall” — meaning they can recall an official for any reason whatsoever. The famous recalls in U.S. history, such as the ones in Wisconsin and the recall of California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003, were not for any charges of incompetence or ethical violations reason. They were solely for political reasons.
Seven of the states have what is called a “judicial recall” or “malfeasance” standard. In these states, the recall proponents have to show cause, such as incompetence, malfeasance, conviction or an ethical violation, before getting the recall on the ballot. Alabama’s amendment would be a malfeasance standard.
When you look at the use of the recall, it is clear that the malfeasance standard radically reduces attempts to oust officials. On the state level, there have been very few recalls. Since the recall was first adopted for state-level officials (including legislators) by Oregon in 1908, only two governors (both were kicked out of office) and two other state wide officials (both in North Dakota in 1921) have ever faced recall elections.