Reforming the Recall

Report #266, February 2022

OVERVIEW

California should adjust the signature requirement for recalling statewide office-holders and revise the recall election process to put the incumbent on the ballot against all challengers, urges the state’s independent government watchdog in its new report.

In Reforming the Recall, the Little Hoover Commission evaluates the state’s recall process, examines the advantages and drawbacks of different recall reforms, and offers recommendations to strengthen the recall system.

“The recall is a popular tool of direct democracy that has been a significant component of the state’s electoral system for over a century,” says Commission Chair Pedro Nava. “We must keep the recall, but California must address fundamental flaws within current recall procedures that leave the system vulnerable to abuse and pave the way for a potentially undemocratic outcome.”

In its report, the Commission recommends that California change the signature requirement for recalling statewide office-holders from 12 percent of the vote in the last election for the office to 10 percent of registered voters. This adjustment will reduce fluctuations in the signature threshold as a result of differences in voter turnout between elections, providing greater consistency in the recall process. It will also increase the number of signatures required to initiate a recall election, discouraging overuse of the recall while keeping it accessible as a tool of electoral accountability.

The Commission further recommends that the state replace the existing two-part recall ballot with a “snap” special recall election. Under this system, the targeted official is placed on the ballot with all potential replacements.

“Under the current recall system a replacement candidate can win office even if they received fewer votes than the recalled incumbent,” says Chair Nava. “The core reason that the Commission supports the use of snap elections for recalls is that it would protect the democratic principle that the person who receives the most votes should win.”

The report follows a lengthy study process that included three public hearings at which Commissioners heard testimony from current and former elected officials such as Secretary of State Shirley Weber and former Secretary of State Bill Jones. The Commission also took testimony from a wide array of scholars and other experts, and received comment from more than 150 members of the public.

The Commission also outlines procedural reforms, which would give elections officials more time to administer elections and provide greater clarity around the recall process.

Several of the Commission’s recommendations—including those outlined above—must be approved by voters. The Commission urges the Legislature to propose recall reforms separately, to give voters the opportunity to pick which changes they think should be adopted.

“The Commission’s recommendations will bolster California’s recall system by helping the state better balance voters’ right to recall officials with protection for electoral integrity and democratic principles,” says Chair Nava.

Written testimony from hearing witnesses can be found in the corresponding event agenda.

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