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Depending on the results of today's events, State Senators John Morse of Colorado Springs and Angela Giron of Pueblo could find themselves in the unemployment line. For the first time in the history of Colorado politics, a state lawmaker could lose their job by way of a recall election. Not to be confused with expulsion or impeachment, where elected officials are removed by other elected officials, recall elections are removal by the citizens that the lawmaker represents. Traditionally this has resulted due to a politician being embroiled in a controversy, facing criminal charges or other improprieties. Some states require specific grounds relating to misconduct to approve a recall, while the other 11 states require no specific grounds for recall. In Colorado, Senators Morse and Giron find themselves facing their constituency over their votes for gun control. Recalling politicians over political decisions represents a new trend that reflects the growing divisive political discourse of the nation. What used to be saved for corrupt and bad behaving leaders is now a tool for activists to use when they disagree with a political position. In the small town of Johnstown, CO, the mayor faced recall when residents disagreed with the mayor’s plan to change the downtown parking to parallel.With the growing popularity of recall elections, 28 since 2010, lets examine where they originated and how a recall election actually works.


Political theorist believe that the idea of recall election have roots to ancient Athenian democracy. Philosopher Aristotle gives reference to the idea in the Athens Constitution, where the Assembly can meet to discuss the governing competence of magistrates. In the United States, recall first appeared in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631. However this version involved the removal of one elected official by another. During the Philadelphia Convention, the notion of recall’s for federal officials was proposed through The Virginia Plan. The idea was rejected and to this day federal officials aren’t subject to recall elections. The modern recall election process is thought to have Swiss roots. In Switzerland, recalls aren’t available for federal offices, but the six cantons (states) do allow them. Bern Canton was the first recorded recall attempt back in 1852. The unsuccessful recall of an executive (state official) was met with over the necessary 30 thousand signatures required. Seattle, WA Mayor Hiram Gill was the first elected official that was successfully recalled. In 1911, Gill faced a recall over his controversial decision to reinstall the notoriously corrupt Charles “Wappy” Wappenstein as police chief. The recall was eventually successful because Gill faced an entirely new voting base given that women’s suffrage had just been enacted. Up until 2003, successful recall elections had primarily focused on local officials, such as city council and school board members; and mayors. 2003 saw the first successful recall of a high state office. California Governor Gray Davis faced a recall election that he called “wasteful and an insult to the eight million voters that elected him.” 2011 saw the highest number of recall elections as 151 elected officials faced losing their jobs. Of these, seven were successful recalled and another nine resigned.


Currently 19 states allow for the recall of state officials. Each state writes its own recall rules, but there are generally four steps to political recalls: 1. Apply for permission to circulate a recall petition. 2. Gather the required number of signatures within the time limit. 3. Have signatures verified and approved by state election officials. 4. Hold the recall election. The Secretary of State is the final authority when approving a recall petition and the number of signatures is usually 25% of the original votes the official collected. The recall election can happen in two ways. First is a yes/no vote where the official is removed and a special election is held. Second the recall election can actually elected a replacement, such is the case in Colorado. The results of today’s recall elections could set a new precedent for citizens that disagree with their elected officials. The rise of recall elections will only rise if they improve on their 50% success rate.