Recall 101: Is Something Better Than Nothing?

Heard about the recall amendment you’ll be voting on next Tuesday? Think you know how it works? So did we—until we took a closer look.

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The recall amendment on the upcoming Election Day ballot is a complicated initiative, so it is important that voters study up on it before going to the polls next Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010.

What follows are some key issues worth learning about before deciding whether to vote YES or NO on this state constitutional recall amendment.

First and foremost, this amendment only allows recall of the Governor. All other officials are exempt.

Second, and perhaps most important, while the measure may, as proponents claim, increase citizen involvement between elections—unlike every other state that allows recall of its officials—it does not give citizens the power to unilaterally determine a recall is necessary. In this way, the Illinois recall amendment would be unique among the 18 other states that have recall provisions. In Illinois, the petitioner must still secure the support of 30 members of the Illinois General Assembly before they can even begin collecting signatures. Further, those members must be evenly split between the two parties.

Third, no grounds are necessary for a recall. Eight states require that the public official committed some form of willful misconduct, or at least negligence in performance of duties. Illinois would require no grounds at all; mere political posturing is grounds enough to initiate a recall.

Fourth, nothing bars the recalled Governor from being on the special election ballot. This means that one party could run a successful recall campaign, and the recalled Governor could run (and win) again.

All of these considerations beg the question: Is this amendment worth the estimated $101 million it would cost to implement?

You decide. Here’s how it works.

PHASE ONE: Getting legislative support

After a Governor has been in office for at least six months, an Illinois voter files an "affidavit of intent to circulate petitions to recall a Governor" with the State Board of Elections.

The affidavit must include the following number of signatures of recall supporters:

  • the person filing the affidavit, or "proponent"
  • at least 20 member of the House of Representatives (at least 10 from each party)
  • at least 10 members of the Senate (at least 5 of from each party)

PHASE TWO: Gathering signatures from the voters

After a valid affidavit has been filed, the proponent has 150 days to collect signatures on "petitions to recall a Governor" in counties across Illinois.

The petitions must be signed by 15 percent of the total number of people who voted for governor in the most recent election. For instance, because about 3.5 million people voted for Governor in 2006, a proponent would have to gather about 525,000 signatures.

An important caveat is that of those 525,000 signatures, at least 25 different counties must be represented with at least 100 signatures from each.

Once the proponent has gathered the petitions and submitted them to the State Board of Elections, the Board has 100 days to validate them.

There can be only one recall petition filed per Governor, and once the recall petition is submitted to the State Board of Elections it cannot be withdrawn.

PHASE THREE: Special elections to recall and replace the Governor

After the affidavit has been filed, and the petitions are validated, the Board of Elections has another 100 days to call a special election.

Voters decide whether to vote YES to recall the Governor. If a majority of votes are in favor of recall, the Governor is removed from office immediately.

Assuming more than one person wants to replace the recalled governor, the special election also serves as primary election1. Candidates to replace the Governor appear on the ballot along with the recall question2.

If the Governor is recalled, the Lieutenant Governor becomes the "Acting Governor" until the special general election.

The special general election has to take place within 60 days after the Governor is removed.

The candidate who gets the most votes in the special general election becomes Governor.

1If only one candidate wishes to run to replace the Governor, his or her name appears on the ballot.

2Within 50 days after the proponent of the recall submits the petition to recall the Governor, all candidates who wish to replace the Governor must submit a petition with 5,000 valid signatures to the State Board of Elections.

*Photo courtesy Keith Bacongo/Flickr