Explainer: The Rocky Road to Recall

Explainer: The Rocky Road to Recall

File photos by Sam Hodgson

Todd Gloria (left), Jan Goldsmith, Bob Filner

 

A dirty little word (and bumper sticker!) has been making the rounds lately: Recall, that legal means of ousting an elected official, has become a buzzword around town.

Most of the palace intrigue has centered on Mayor Bob Filner, with lesser focus on City Council President Todd Gloria and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith (Disclosure: I spent several months working for Filner’s mayoral campaign during the 2012 primary). The extent of any real public “discussion,” however, has largely been friendly dinner conversations, social gossip and a questionable phone poll. Oh, and the churlish bumper sticker.

What has missing from all the breezy talk of voter-approved usurpation is a solid explication of what exactly the recall process entails, and what it means for San Diego. With the help from the city clerk’s website and Chapter 2, Article 7, Division 27 of the Municipal Code, we’ve outlined the messy, drawn-out process below.

The Basics

• An elected official can only be recalled after serving a minimum of six months in office.

• A successful recall petition requires the signatures of at least 15 percent of the registered voting population for the prior general election. So a recall petition for a city elected official would need 101,596 San Diegans’ signatures. For council members, the signature number required is 15 percent of voters in that district.

Phase 1: Opening Volleys and Petition Gatherings

• In a daily newspaper, an individual must circulate a notice of intention to recall an elected official, providing both a 300-word reason for the petition and the signature of either the individual advancing the petition or representatives of the organization(s) backing the effort.

• Within five days of the newspaper announcement, a copy of the notice must be served to the official in question.

• Within 10 days of the notice’s publication, a copy of the notice and an affidavit of publication must be filed with the city clerk’s office.

• The elected official has within 14 days of the notice’s publication to file with the city clerk an official answer to the recall petition, which will be included on the recall petition.

• Three weeks after the publication of the notice, petition recalls can be circulated. The petitions include the reason for the petition, as well as the official answer from the elected official or a designee. Any registered voter within the city can sign the petition, but must provide a home address.

• Within 60 days of the notice’s publication, the recall petitions must be filed to the city clerk. This leaves 39 days, or a little under six weeks, to collect the 101,596 valid signatures.

Phase 2: Verification Purgatory

The city clerk has 30 days to verify the signatories of the petition. Unless challenged, the city clerk will use a random sampling method to verify signatures.

What is described below, and the adjoining timeline, is one possible way the process could unfold. But there are numerous scenarios that could play out, each with a varying timetable.

Click to enlarge.

• Upon finishing the verification process, the city clerk informs the petitioning party and then immediately presents the certified petition to the City Council.

• No more than four days after the announcement of sufficiency, any elector (i.e. — voter) in the city can challenge the clerk’s determination. The individual is responsible for covering the costs incurred by the clerk’s office in verifying every single signature. The challenge is the best bet by the elected official or his or her supporters to quash the potential recall process.

• In the instance that the city clerk determines the number of signatures to be insufficient, the recall proponents have up to 30 days to file one supplemental petition.

What remains legally ambiguous is whether signatures can continuously be collected after the original deadline for filing the petitions. If so, then recall proponents could have upward of 70 extra days to collect signatures.

• The city clerk has 30 days from the submission of the supplemental petition to verify signatures.

Phase 3: Total Recall (Election)

• Should the city clerk report to the council that the recall petition collected a sufficient number of signatures, the council will immediately call for a special recall election.

• The council must set the recall election no less than 60 and no more than 90 days from the date of the petition certification. If another election falls within 120 days of the certification date, however, the council can choose to combine the election.

• The recall ballot shall contain two questions: 1) whether to recall the elected official in question, and 2) who shall potentially be elected to fill that office. The Municipal Code states that the nomination of replacement candidates shall conform to the practices of municipal elections, “if practicable.” The city’s election code lays out the standard month-long process of filing papers and collecting signatures to qualify as a candidate for office. A potentially modified process would be in place to qualify for the recall ballot.

• If a majority of voters decides that the elected official should be removed from office, the winner of the recall election will simply be the highest vote-getter. It bears repeating — a majority is not needed. Just the most votes. That means in a potentially crowded field of candidates, someone could win with only 25-30 percent of the vote, so long as they had more votes than all the others. High name ID, and very quick access to capital will go a long way toward determining who could emerge victorious after a two-month campaign.

One important final note: Only voters who first weigh in on the question of the recall can have their votes counted toward the election of the successor. Gives whole new meaning to “vote early, vote often.”

So, when some talking head or public relations flack invokes the specter of a “recall,” keep in mind what they are describing is actually a brutal five- to eight-month process that will consume untold millions of public and private dollars and grind municipal government to a chaotic halt.

Zachary Warma is the events and community manager for Voice of San Diego. You can reach him at zack@voiceofsandiego.org or 619-550-5664.

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Zachary Warma

Zachary Warma

Zachary Warma is the events and community manager for Voice of San Diego. You can reach him at zack@voiceofsandiego.org or 619-550-5667.

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26 comments
Andrew Poat
Andrew Poat subscriber

Recall elections are a method to address mis or malfeasance - which means doing something illegal, genuinely unethical or wildly unpopular. The issues of the past few months reflect several things - none of which, in my view, warrant anything near discussion of a recall election. What we are seeing is elected officials that want to explore the true meaning of Strong Mayor/Strong Council. So far, I generally side with Mayor Filner in the view that our Chief Executive should administer the City and lead with proposals - the Council should evaluate and amend those proposals, developing alternatives when necessary. San Diego still has TREMENDOUS opportunity to reform our government processes to best practices around the Country - let's focus on those improvements before we start trying to recall anyone.

andrewpoat
andrewpoat

Recall elections are a method to address mis or malfeasance - which means doing something illegal, genuinely unethical or wildly unpopular. The issues of the past few months reflect several things - none of which, in my view, warrant anything near discussion of a recall election. What we are seeing is elected officials that want to explore the true meaning of Strong Mayor/Strong Council. So far, I generally side with Mayor Filner in the view that our Chief Executive should administer the City and lead with proposals - the Council should evaluate and amend those proposals, developing alternatives when necessary. San Diego still has TREMENDOUS opportunity to reform our government processes to best practices around the Country - let's focus on those improvements before we start trying to recall anyone.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Whether it is O'Conners "hangin with the homeless" or Filner's low brow bullying, sooner or later there will be real work to be done, and the city will go back to electing substance over entertainment.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Whether it is O'Conners "hangin with the homeless" or Filner's low brow bullying, sooner or later there will be real work to be done, and the city will go back to electing substance over entertainment.

Don Wood
Don Wood subscriber

For those who don't know better, Maureen O'Connor was promoted to mayor by GOP saint Pete Wilson, and was one of the most popular mayors the city has ever had. The idea that her administration "sour San Diego on democrat leadership for decades" is uninformed BS from someone who obviously wasn't there.

Don Wood
Don Wood

For those who don't know better, Maureen O'Connor was promoted to mayor by GOP saint Pete Wilson, and was one of the most popular mayors the city has ever had. The idea that her administration "sour San Diego on democrat leadership for decades" is uninformed BS from someone who obviously wasn't there.

Don Wood
Don Wood subscriber

Another example of VOSD's "let's you and him fight" standard of journalism. Anything to get more readers "enrolled" in a story. Why does the VOSD feel it needs to go after Mayor Filner? Doesn't it know that's the UT's job?

Don Wood
Don Wood

Another example of VOSD's "let's you and him fight" standard of journalism. Anything to get more readers "enrolled" in a story. Why does the VOSD feel it needs to go after Mayor Filner? Doesn't it know that's the UT's job?

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Overall, Filner has the potential to sour San Diego on democrat leadership for decades like O'Conner did. He's gold for the GOP.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Overall, Filner has the potential to sour San Diego on democrat leadership for decades like O'Conner did. He's gold for the GOP.

David Cohen
David Cohen subscriber

LOL. Bring it/them on! The $$ spent by GOPhers/Libertarians in such a futile quest can't be spent in other, potentially more effective, quests.

fryefan
fryefan

LOL. Bring it/them on! The $$ spent by GOPhers/Libertarians in such a futile quest can't be spent in other, potentially more effective, quests.

Jeff Brazel
Jeff Brazel subscribermember

Must be a slow news day at the VOSD for this little article to be worth someone's time. I get it when there is a real groundswell of sentiment for a recall. The former city attorney caused such a feeling among a number of folks in town, there were bumper stickers printed up, likely more as a joke than any kind of serious effort at a recall. Good research to put in the file if ever a real recall effort starts brewing.

JB619
JB619

Must be a slow news day at the VOSD for this little article to be worth someone's time. I get it when there is a real groundswell of sentiment for a recall. The former city attorney caused such a feeling among a number of folks in town, there were bumper stickers printed up, likely more as a joke than any kind of serious effort at a recall. Good research to put in the file if ever a real recall effort starts brewing.

mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa subscriber

You wanted a strong mayor. Now you got one. Don't like it? Tough.

mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa

You wanted a strong mayor. Now you got one. Don't like it? Tough.

Pia Mantovani-Sud
Pia Mantovani-Sud subscribermember

Gimme a break! Bob Filner was elected mayor by the majority of voters and I like what he's doing and where his going.

sdsunset2
sdsunset2

Gimme a break! Bob Filner was elected mayor by the majority of voters and I like what he's doing and where his going.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

As for our new "Hizzoner", last week I would have said "Forget it, it's not only premature, it's a waste of time". Then I read his marijuana store proposal. I'll say this: it's certainly unique. Read it and draw your own conclusions about Filner's common sense and his motivations.

toulon
toulon

As for our new "Hizzoner", last week I would have said "Forget it, it's not only premature, it's a waste of time". Then I read his marijuana store proposal. I'll say this: it's certainly unique. Read it and draw your own conclusions about Filner's common sense and his motivations.

Monica Hagen
Monica Hagen subscriber

No surprises with our new mayor--Filner has been part of our San Diego politics for years. We know him as the smiling, abrasive Dem who even got into a fray with an airline employee and now some people want a recall? Waste of time and energy. At least what you see is what you get with Filner. The voters knew who he was and he was elected despite his faults. Love him or roll your eyes, but kudos to him for consistency over time.

Monica H
Monica H

No surprises with our new mayor--Filner has been part of our San Diego politics for years. We know him as the smiling, abrasive Dem who even got into a fray with an airline employee and now some people want a recall? Waste of time and energy. At least what you see is what you get with Filner. The voters knew who he was and he was elected despite his faults. Love him or roll your eyes, but kudos to him for consistency over time.

Bruce Nunes
Bruce Nunes subscriber

If Filner continues in his present way to conduct the business of the city, then effectively, the municipal government will surely grind to a halt anyway so absent a change of methods by Filner, we would be much better off with someone else in office. Can we really stand another 3 1/2 years of what we are seeing now? it is sure to get worse. For those who think that Filner is doing a good job and that all his detractors are the problem, just think of a sports team that is not functional and is losing but you like the coach or manager. it is easier to change the person in charge than the whole team.

Nooner
Nooner

If Filner continues in his present way to conduct the business of the city, then effectively, the municipal government will surely grind to a halt anyway so absent a change of methods by Filner, we would be much better off with someone else in office. Can we really stand another 3 1/2 years of what we are seeing now? it is sure to get worse. For those who think that Filner is doing a good job and that all his detractors are the problem, just think of a sports team that is not functional and is losing but you like the coach or manager. it is easier to change the person in charge than the whole team.