Michigan’s Recall Election Law
Recall is a procedure that allows citizens to remove and replace a public official before the end of a term of office. It differs from other devices for removing public officials from office — impeachment and expulsion — in that it is a political device while impeachment is a legal process for removing an elected executive official for violating a law and expulsion is a legislative process for removing an elected legislative official. All states that employ the recall device, except for Virginia, do so at the ballot box.
An increase in the use of recall in Michigan in recent years has drawn attention to this policy issue. This report assesses the recall process in a number of ways. First, how does the frequency and use of recalls in Michigan compare to earlier periods within the state and with other states that authorize recall? Second, what are the costs of administering recall elections and from governmental work disruptions caused by campaign distractions and fear of recall? Finally, in an effort to analyze whether the process for recalling elected officials in Michigan contributes to a more frequent use than is found in other states, the processes for recall are compared for each state that authorizes recall.
Michigan Recall Activity from 2000 to 2011
At least 457 state and local government elected officials faced a recall election in Michigan between 2000 and 2011 (see Chart A). According to this most recent 12-year sample, Michigan averages 38 officials facing recall election each year. With roughly 18,129 elected officials eligible to be recalled in Michigan, this is an average of only 0.2 percent of eligible elected officials facing a recall election in an average year in Michigan.
The trend line for this sample shows that the number of officials facing recall elections has been increasing in Michigan since 2000. The largest number of elected officials faced recall in 2006 (87 officials), followed by 2011 (66 officials), 2010 (64 officials), and 2002 (49 officials).
In Michigan, recalls have been overwhelmingly targeted at non-county general purpose government (cities, townships and villages) leadership (89 percent of all officials who faced recall in the state) over the last 12 years (see Chart B). Local school district leadership is the next highest target (9 percent), followed by county leadership (2 percent). With just 2 (less than 0.5 percent) of the 457 recall elections involving state officials (Speaker of the House Dillon in 2008 and Representative Scott in 2011).
While Michigan’s economic troubles may be contributing to voter discontent, the majority of recall elections were not for financial reasons. Roughly one-third of the elections were for various kinds of alleged improper conduct and one-third were for disagreements about policy matters that were not financial in nature. Recalls for financial reasons have been increasing suggesting that financial stress relating to the housing market collapse in 2008 may be increasing recalls related to financial concerns.