A recall election (also called a recall referendum or representative recall) is a procedure by which voters can remove an elected official from office through a direct vote (plebiscite), initiated when sufficient voters sign a petition. Recall has a history dating back to the ancient Athenian democracy. During the American Revolution the Articles of Confederation stipulated that state legislatures might recall delegates from the continental congress. The Virginia Plan, issued at the outset of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, proposed to pair recall with rotation in office, and to apply these dual principles to the lower house of the national legislature.
Along with the initiative, the referendum, and the direct primary, the recall election was one of the major electoral reforms advocated by leaders of the Progressive movement in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, although it was initially proposed in William S. U'Ren's Oregon newspaper. Recall elections do not take place at the federal level. The majority of states allow recall elections in local jurisdictions, but only eighteen states permit recall elections to remove state officials.
Only two governors have ever been successfully recalled. In 1921, Lynn Frazier, Governor of North Dakota, was recalled during a dispute about state-owned industries, and in 2003, Governor Gray Davis of California was recalled over the state budget.
In Alaska, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Rhode Island, and Washington, specific grounds are required for a recall. Some form of malfeasance or misconduct while in office must be identified by the petitioners. The target may choose to dispute the validity of the grounds in court, and a court then judges whether the allegations in the petition rise to a level where a recall is necessary. In the November 2010 general election, Illinois passed a referendum to amend the state constitution to allow a recall in light of ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich's corruption scandal. In the other eleven states that permit state-wide recall, no grounds are required and recall petitions may be circulated for any reason. However, the target is permitted to submit responses to the stated reasons for recall.
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