While the political arguments surrounding tomorrow’s Wisconsin recall elections are well covered elsewhere, I’d like to draw attention to the many issues and history surrounding the use of the recall – both in Wisconsin and the rest of the nation. Due to the unprecedented circumstances in Wisconsin, we shouldn’t expect the usual recall phenomena like low voter turnout and blow victories. Yet such recall norms are worth considering even in the context of Wisconsin, for the insight they bear on how recalls are used.
As others have stated, the last few years has seen a recall boomlet (though the way they are citing Ballotpedia as the source shows they probably don’t understand how a wiki works). Most credit/blame the recession, but recall use has probably been growing for at least the last thirty years (13 of the 20 state legislative recalls have been since 1983). I cite technological changes as a major driver in the recalls growth.
Let’s get onto our key talking points:
History in the making
How historic are Wisconsin recall elections? Since 1908 (when Oregon became the first state to adopt the recall for state level officials), there have been 20 state legislative recall elections in the entire country. In this term, Wisconsin will have nine recalls in a little over a month.
Previously, the maximum recalls in one legislative session were three in California in 1995. Michigan in 1983 (taxes) and Idaho in 1971 (pay raise) both had two at once.
Will voters shy away from switching party control of the Senate? Nope! If the Democrats win at least three seats and lose none, they will have gained a majority in the Senate. There have been three recalls (four or five if you want to count California in 1995 multiple times) that could have switched the legislature (Michigan 1983, California 1995, Wisconsin 1996). All of them succeeded.
Recalls are frequently successful – 13 of the 20 (now 21 thanks to the July 19 Wisconsin race) recalls have resulted in the official being kicked out of office, as have both of the governors. There are no hard numbers for others recalls, but it does seem to be over 50%.
Democratic State Senator Jim Holperin is the first state legislator to face two recalls during his state legislative career. (Others have faced multiple recalls, but never as a state legislator).