Recall Elections Enhance Democracy

The power of recall ballots is allowing Wisconsinites to hold their elected officials accountable.

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Mike Tate is the chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party since 2009 and veteran state political activist

It's true that the recall election was never intended to replace our representative form of government, and it's most certainly not a tool to be used lightly. However, when elected officials subvert the will of those they represent, enacting a radical agenda that seeks to concentrate power in the hands of the very few and jeopardizing the livelihoods of the people they are supposed to protect, the exercise of the constitutionally guaranteed right to force a recall election is a just and proper tool to hold those elected officials accountable for their actions.

And, although the use of the recall election is an appropriate expression of voter outrage, the fact remains that the actual undertaking of a recall election is an incredibly daunting task that requires collecting a great amount of signatures in a relatively short period of time. Here in Wisconsin, the number of valid signatures required to trigger a recall election is equal to 25 percent of the number of persons who voted in the last election for the office of governor within the electoral district of the officer sought to be recalled. Even more of a challenge, these signatures, numbering in the thousands, or possibly even hundreds of thousands, must be collected in a mere 60 days. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the GOP.]

These requirements are incredibly stringent, and in being so, protect the integrity of the electoral process by ensuring that the recall election is not used to undermine representative democracy. Prior to the historic recall filings of the past few weeks, Wisconsin has only had four recalls of state officials, dating back to 1926, when, at the very heart of the Progressive movement, the Wisconsin Constitution was amended to provide for the recall of elected officials. Two of those four were successful. [Check out photos of the Wisconsin protests.]

The unprecedented efforts of thousands of engaged citizens only serve to illustrate the significance of the events of recent weeks, where the tremendous momentum against Republican legislators who enabled Gov. Scott Walker's extreme power grab continues unabated, and where Wisconsinites continue to express their outrage over record cuts to education, healthcare, and support for our seniors and the most vulnerable, while granting tax cuts for the very rich. [Read the U.S. News debate: Should public sector workers keep collective bargaining rights?]

It's clear that the tide is turning in Wisconsin. The people have sent an unmistakable signal to an intransigent governor and his rubber-stamp legislature that their divisive methods and preference for placing narrow and partisan corporate interests over the people they represent have been rejected, and there is no choice now but to know that the voices of thousands of working Wisconsin families will be heard.

The actions of the Republican legislators facing recall are extreme, dangerous, and way out of step with Wisconsin values. Through the power of their ballots in recall elections, Wisconsinites have the opportunity to hold their elected officials accountable and effect immediate change so they are no longer subject to the will of politicians more concerned with promoting the agenda of their party bosses than with keeping their promises to represent the will of their constituents.

Recall elections send a direct message to elected officials—that they will be held responsible for the promises they make to the people they represent, and if they fail to keep those promises, they risk drawing the ire of the electorate.

Recall is undoubtedly a powerful tool, but it does not weaken democracy. If anything, it enhances it.

See the other side of the debate: Read Tom Cochran from the U.S. Conference of Mayors on why, these days, recall elections are more about chaos than throwing out the bums.

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