Progressive Web

Recall Improvements
By Matthew Rothschild 
August 7, 2003

The shenanigans going on right now in California are grist for the comedy mills, but they also raise a serious question: Are recalls a good thing?

My answer is yes, but.

Yes, voters should have the right to recall their elected officials. This was one of the great innovations of the progressive era, and there's no reason to dispense with it now.

Look, 1,363,411 Californians--9 percent of all registered voters--signed petitions to recall Governor Gray Davis. That's a lot of signatures! Nothing wrong with direct democracy at work.

The "but" is that money has polluted the recall process in California, just as it has in other areas of elected politics. One rightwing Congressman, Darrell Issa, spent more than a million dollars of his own money to get the recall process going. That should be illegal. There needs to be tight limits on how people can spend private money to affect this most public purpose: electing, or tossing out, political leaders.

Oh, there's one other "but." The replacement ballot in California, if Gray Davis is recalled, needs to be remedied in the future so that no candidate is able to win with just a small plurality of votes.

There are a couple of ways to solve this: Have the top two vote-getters face each other in a runoff, or have instant runoff voting, so that citizens rank the candidates in order of preference, and if their top choice is not one of the leading vote-getters, then their next preference is counted until one candidate gets a majority.

These reforms would make the recall process much more democratic.

And that ought to be the goal--all Hollywood and partisanship aside.

-- Matthew Rothschild