With American politicians still refusing to substantively address the looming consequences of their fiscal irresponsibility, it only makes sense that voters are feeling frustrated and powerless. Last November’s elections sent an unambiguous message to leaders at all levels of government that unsustainable spending will no longer be tolerated – yet it’s becoming increasingly obvious that only a handful of leaders are heeding this message.
If our nation is to be governed in a manner consistent with the taxpayers’ best interests moving forward, then serious structural reforms are necessary. In addition to passing term limits that cap politicians’ time in office – the right of voters to recall their elected officials should also be expanded.
Currently, recall elections are not permitted in the United States for federal officeholders, and at present only nineteen states allow recall elections for state officeholders. Of these nineteen states, seven (Alaska, Georgia, Kansas, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Montana and Washington) require specific grounds for a recall election to be held, while Illinois provides for the recall of governors only. Also, there are arduous signature-gathering requirements that serve to dissuade voters from initiating recall efforts.
In spite of its relatively sparse implementation as a part of our American democracy, voter recall is firmly grounded in the history of representative government. Unlike passing political fads or rhetorical buzzwords that come and go from year-to-year, voter recall (like term limits) traces its roots all the way back to ancient Athenian Democracy. On this continent, its lineage can be traced to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, meaning recall pre-dates the American Revolution by more than a century.
And even though the U.S. Constitution failed to include a recall provision, several of our founding fathers argued on behalf of its insertion. In his 1787 “Virginia Plan,” James Madison paired rotation in office (i.e. term limits) with a recall provision as part of his blueprint for the lower house of the new federal government. More recently, recall elections were promoted at the turn of the 20th century as part of citizen-empowering initiative and referendum reforms – prompting a handful of states to adopt these measures.