The American system of government is based on representative democracy in which citizens elect individuals to make, enforce, and interpret the laws under which we live. A majority of the votes cast for a specific candidate is needed to be elected in Wisconsin.
A recall election is a midterm election initiated by members of the constituency to decide whether an elected official will remain in office and, if removed, who will replace the official for the remainder of the term. Wisconsin is one of only 19 states utilizing a constitutional recall process.
Supporters of recall elections maintain it provides a way for citizens to retain control over elected officials who are not representing the best interests of their constituents, or who are unresponsive or incompetent. Opponents argue the threat of a recall election lessens the independence of elected officials, and can lead to abuses by well-financed special interest groups.
In Wisconsin, a recall petition for a city, village, town, or school district officer must contain the reason for the recall which is related to the official responsibilities of the officeholder. No reason is needed to recall state elected officials.
Most often, the recall process has been used against those accused or convicted of official misconduct in office, but recall efforts arising from disagreements over public policy choices have become increasingly common. This past summer, an unprecedented 9 recall elections swept through Wisconsin. Fiscally, the estimated cost to municipalities was nearly $2.1 million.
Jerry Bott, filling in for Jay Weber on the Jay Weber Show (WISN – Milwaukee) described the recent Wisconsin recalls as “the tyranny of the minority.” In other words, it takes a majority – half of the votes cast plus one to elect an individual into office. But it takes only a small minority – 25 percent of the number of votes cast in each specific district in the last gubernatorial election – to initiate a recall for removal of that individual from office.
Numerous constituents have complained to me about the recent recall activities. In response, I’ve co-sponsored LRB 2636 titled “Recalling the Recalls” introduced by Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington. The Assembly Joint Resolution relates to recall of elective officers and a code of ethics for government officials (first consideration). If passed, elected officials would no longer be subject to recalls for a taken vote, but rather for malfeasance or misfeasance.
According to the analysis by the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau, under the resolution to recall an elected official; “an elective officer may be recalled only if he or she has been charged with a serious crime or if a finding of probable cause has been made that he or she violated the state code of ethics.” Furthermore, the analysis states; “the petition for recall demonstrates sufficient grounds for recalling the elective officer.”
Recalling the recalls requires amending the state constitution. Therefore, prior to becoming law, it must pass two successive legislative sessions, after which it is voted on as a statewide referendum. Ultimately, the majority of Wisconsinites will have the final say on “recalling the recalls”.