State recall law changes seem to be working

Our state consistently leads the country in one area that may not reflect well on our political climate – the number of elected officials facing recall.

But major alterations to Michigan law on recalls could already be changing that.

Citizens or groups who want to remove public officials from office now have to follow new rules under a law signed earlier this year.

Changes include shortening the time to collect recall signatures from 90 to 60 days and giving voters a choice between the officeholder and a challenger, rather than the former system’s up-or-down recall vote followed by a replacement election. Another revision requires state and county election boards to determine if the reasons cited on recall petitions are “factual.” Election officials previously examined only the clarity of a petition’s wording.

Experts who spoke to The Associated Press recently are already predicting a drop in the number of recall elections. Locally, the new rules have already derailed one recall effort targeting four Gwinn Area Community Schools board members.

Recall petitions filed against four Gwinn Area Community Schools board members were unanimously denied in May by the three-member Marquette Election Commission for not being of “sufficient clarity and factuality.”

The recall petitions targeted the members for “failing to become properly informed on issues” and “failing to properly oversee the actions of the school’s administration.” We don’t take a position on the truth or falsity of those claims, but we do agree with the election commission that they are largely matters of opinion, not fact.

Some states require specific grounds for recall – the commission of a felony, ethics violations or incompetence. Many of the others, including Michigan, allow officials to be targeted for any reason.

The old rules made it too easy to turn a recall into a political weapon.

We feel the new law provides some needed refinement to the process. It’s better to force backers of a recall drive to provide specifics – such as someone voting for a particular ordinance or taking a particular public stand – so officeholders can defend themselves and so votes are not based on personalities or vendettas.

The new election provision should also save taxpayers money by cutting the number of elections needed. And with stricter recall standards, fewer recall efforts will even get to the election stage.

We don’t think the new rules will shut down valid recall efforts, but they will make for a more transparent and honest political system.