First in a three-part series
To our delight, we found an opportunity this morning to act as a sort of political “Dear Abby” for inquisitive New Yorkers. In a letter to the editor of the Times Union, Steven Flax of Albany laments the process by which the Legislature chose a new Comptroller. At the end of his letter, he asks, “Is there some way the governor and the public together can hold a recall election and vote them all out of office?”
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, recall is the process by which citizens can remove an elected official from office and replace him or her before the end of the term of office. Recall (pun definitely intended) how California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger came to office: he was chosen by California voters in a special election after the recall of former Governor Gray Davis in 2003.
To answer your question, Steven, New York is not among the eighteen states that allow the recall of elected officials. Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin (along with the District of Columbia) all have recall provisions. Sources place the number of states that allow recall elections in local jurisdictions between 29 and 36.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in 1903, Los Angeles became the first municipality to recall an official, while Michigan and Oregon, in 1908, became the first states to adopt recall provisions for state officials.
The NCSL notes, however, that the recall has been rather unsuccessful on the state level. Before the recall of Gray Davis, the governor of North Dakota in 1921 was the only governor to be ousted using this device. Similarly, only a handful of state legislators have ever been recalled.