Recall is a procedure that allows citizens to remove and replace a public official before the end of a term of office. Recall differs from another method for removing officials from office – impeachment – in that it is a political device while impeachment is a legal process. Impeachment requires the House to bring specific charges and the Senate to act as a jury. In most of the recall states, specific grounds are not required, and the recall of a state official is by an election. Eighteen states permit the recall of state officials. A recent, high-profile example of the recall process was the recall of California Governor Gray Davis and his replacement with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003.
In the 19 states that allow recall elections, citizens can attempt to remove an elected official from office at any time. Typically, the recall process consists of gathering a certain amount of signatures on a petition in a certain amount of time. Beyond this, details of the recall process vary by state. The following information explains these processes and provides a list of each state's laws governing the recall of state officials.
Recall is a procedure that allows citizens to remove and replace a public official before the official’s term of office ends. Historically, recall has been used most frequently at the local level. By some estimates, three-fourths of recall elections are at the city council or school board level. This webpage, however, focuses on the recall only as it applies to state officials. For more information on state laws on local recalls, see Local Recalls.
Recall differs from another method for removing officials from office—impeachment—in that it is a political device while impeachment is a legal process. Impeachment typically requires a state legislature’s lower chamber to bring specific charges, and the upper chamber to act as the jury in an impeachment trial. In contrast, in most of the 19 recall states specific grounds for recall are not required, and the recall of a state official is accomplished through an election.
Nineteen states plus the District of Columbia permit the recall of state officials:
Recall of State Officials
Alaska, Illinois, New Jersey, Arizona, Kansas, North Dakota, California, Louisiana, Oregon, Colorado, Michigan,
Rhode Island, District of Columbia, Minnesota, Washington, Georgia, Montana, Wisconsin, Idaho, Nevada
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures
All these states lay out the right to recall elected officials in their constitutions, with the exception of Montana, where the right to recall is found only in state statutes. Additionally, each recall state except Illinois and Rhode Island further explains its recall processes in state statutes. A full citation list of these laws is below.
Currently, only these 19 states allow recall elections of statewide elected officials, but other states have recently considered establishing recall procedures. Between 2015 and 2019, legislatures in several states considered bills that would allow for recall elections of state and local officials. For example, in 2017 and 2018, recall election legislation failed to pass the New York and West Virginia legislatures, and legislation that would have allowed recall of state legislators failed to pass the Illinois General Assembly. In 2019, legislation that would have provided for recall of any elected official in Connecticut failed to pass the General Assembly. Also in 2019, the Oklahoma House of Representatives introduced a bill that would allow citizens to petition for the recall of any elected official in the state.
Virginia has a process that is similar to recall, but it is not listed here as a recall state because its process, while requiring citizen petitions, calls for a recall trial rather than an election. In Virginia, after a petition containing the required number of signatures is verified, a circuit court decides whether a Virginia official will be removed from office. In the recall states, the voters decide in an election.
Recall of Local Officials
In at least 30 states (some sources place this number at 38), recall elections may be held in local jurisdictions.
Recall is a procedure that allows citizens to remove and replace a public official before the end of a term of office. Recall differs from another method for removing officials from office – impeachment – in that it is a political device while impeachment is a legal process. (NCSL)
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