Recall Chatter on the Rise?

July 18, 2011

As you might already know, Wisconsin is holding a series of elections this summer on the subject of recalling 9 Wisconsin State Senators (if you don’t know the background, Reuters wrote a preview last week that really brings you up to speed on it).  The recalls were initiated in response to a controversial bill amending Wisconsin Civil Service rules. 

While the Wisconsin recalls are probably getting the most press, this year has also seen an attempt to recall the Mayor of Omaha in January.  The Mayor of Miami-Dade County was successfully recalled in March

As all this has been going on, I’ve been interested to know whether recalls have been featured more prominently in the news recently, or if it just seems that way.  To test this, I ran a quick advanced search in News in WestlawNext.  I searched Recall and Election in opening paragraphs, with a date range of 7/15/10 to 7/16/11 (the one year period before I wrote this).  I came back with 2926 results. 

Advanced: DA(aft 07-15-2010 & bef 07-16-2011) & HLD(recall & election)

2925 Documents in Content: News.

Running the same search, but a year earlier, returns 2095 results in news.  That means there was a significant increase this past year compared to a year earlier.

Advanced: DA(aft 07-15-2009 & bef 07-16-2010 & HLD(recall & election)

2095 Documents in Content: News

This is probably not a fair comparison because the elected officials we would expect to be recalled were at a very different point in the electoral cycle in the 2009-2010 year than they were during the 2010-2011 year.

I ran the same search again in the same July to July time frame with regard to the last midterm election, to get results from a comparable period in the election cycle.

Advanced: DA(aft 07-15-2006 & bef 07-16-2007 & HLD(recall & election)

2060 Documents in Content: News

So there has been a clear increase in recall discussion, even when making the comparison against the last midterm elections.  In fact, the only similar period in which I could find more articles was 2003-2004, which was the year when California Governor Gray Davis was recalled and replaced by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

I’m left fairly convinced that there has been a distinct increase in the discussion of recalling public officials in the past year, though as the voting is just starting in Wisconsin, I imagine I’ll see even more in the weeks to come. 

See also Nathan A. Persily, The Peculiar Geography of Direct Democracy: why the Initiative, Referendum and Recall Developed in the American West, 2 Mich. L. & Pol’y Rev. 11 (1997).

The renewed use of the tools of direct democracy in the 1990s portends even more frequent clashes between the ultra-democracy of direct legislation and ultimate anti-democracy of an unelected and, at the federal level, virtually unremovable judiciary…