Analysis: Recall elections hit a historic high in 2021

That’s the most since the organization started tracking recalls back in 2012. It dwarfs the 301 such efforts in 2020 and the 233 in 2019.

But, there’s actually more to the story! Because while 2021 featured the most recall efforts ever, it also claimed the title for the least elected officials ever recalled, with just 25 being ousted. That’s far below the 80 who were recalled in 2018 and the 82(!) recalled in 2014.

(Sidebar: Know what office was the most common one to see a recall effort? School board. A total of 233 school board members faced recalls in 2021, a number you have to assume was heavily influenced by fights over best practices in schools to deal with Covid-19.)

What explains that seeming contradiction?

Here’s my theory: Now more than ever before, relatively small groups of people unhappy with a local, state or federally elected officials can find one another — thanks to the power of the Internet. And, that power also allows them to organize opposition quickly and cheaply.

The problem? Rules in many states make the bar for getting the recall on the ballot both difficult and costly. California, with its relatively lax rules for recalling politicians, led the way with a whopping 159 recall efforts in 2021.

Is the rise in recall efforts a good thing? I’m not so sure it is. Recall laws were put in place to deal with egregious acts of malpractice (or unlawful conduct) while in office. They are being used now as a way for a relatively small faction of disaffected voters to express their dissatisfaction.

The Point: The rise in recalls is here to stay. As we grow more polarized, the recall will likely continue to be the preferred vehicle for people to express their unhappiness with their politicians.


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