The case for recall

With all the shenanigans in Christchurch is it time that we considered recall legislation?

I think so, and I will explain why.

At the moment there are many commentators, myself included calling for some sort of action in Christchurch. You have rogue councillors, an inept Mayor, an out of control and indifferent Chief Executive and the reality that no one but the Minister of Local Government having any power to anything more than just moan about the issues.

If someone dares suggest that a Commissioner be appointed then they are called anti-democratic. Imagine the outcry if the Minister actually did do that. Sacking councils seems unreasonable except via the ballot box but all too often that is 3 long years away.

It seems then that instead of action we get inaction, ineptitude and costs all for the want of action against the fools and wastrels for three years.

Democracy needs to be more immediate than that. What better way to hand power back to the people than with recall elections. The Minister doesn’t have to wield draconian laws, the people actually get a say and the inept and the wasteful get tossed from office.

What is there not to like about recall elections? Except perhaps the cost of them…but it seems a small price to pay for ridding a city or electorate of a fool.

In Switzerland, the recall rules differ for each canton but the mechanism is similar. Cantons that allow recall must have a petition with valid signatures of between 2 and 13% of the roll in order to trigger a recall referendum. By and large the mechanism has n’t been used in Switzerland but the facility is on the law books should the need arise.

The United States is the most prolific for recall elections.Famously Arnold Swarzenegger won a recall election after Governor Gray Davis became just the second Governor in history to be recalled in 2003.

Under California law, any elected official may be the target of a recall campaign. To trigger a recall election, proponents of the recall must gather a certain number of signatures from registered voters within a certain time period. The number of signatures statewide must equal 12% of the number of votes cast in the previous election for that office. For the 2003 recall election, that meant a minimum of 897,156 signatures, based on the November 2002 statewide elections, but 1.2 million were needed to ensure that there were enough valid signatures.

It would seem fair to suggest that if we were to institute recall legislation that perhaps a threshold of 10% of electors be required to trigger a recall election. So for an electorate that would mean between 5-6000 valid signatures. With Auckland’s population due to pass 1.5 million then 150,000 signatures would be required. Christchurch would require around 38,000 signatures.

If democracy is the underpinning rationale to leaving the inept in charge then let’s free us from this tyranny by providing a mechanism for exactly that. It si simple, it has a necessary threshold to prevent frivolous attempts and importantly gives voters an additional recourse that if their MP, Mayor, Council or Councillor goes haywire they can relieve themselves of their presence with a simple recall election.

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  • Hakim of Phut

    The Reichstag had 4 elections in 2 years. What did that solve.

    • Politically Unstable

      so whats your solution? no elections at all. There sems to be no issue sacking democratically elected school boards – so this is basically the same principal. But of course there is always someone to put up one example to hinder good sense isn’t there

      • Hakim of Phut

        Councils have been sacked before, even DHB’s.

  • NotLen

    Auckland would need far fewer than 150,000 signatures as probably about 40% of the 1.5 million are not voters (eg childrern)

  • Mike

    10% seems very low – what happens when an election is fairly close (say 48% vs 52% of votes cast), and the losing party decides that a recall is needed. They could persuade a quarter of the people who voted for them to support the recall, with the result that another election is held. Repeat until elected!

    • nzd.gbp

      i presume there would be an option on a recall petition to ‘not recall’ so that if a voting bloc of losers got together then a bloc of winners could cancel them out and the net result would be counted against the required threshold. 

      • Correct…there is a recall ballot, if recall is rejected then no subsequent recall election.

  • Peter Wilson

    Would you need to have approved wording on any recall petition? Who would approve it?
    You couldn’t have people running around with a petition, and give voters no reason to sign it.

    I can’t imagine any wording that wouldn’t be stoked with political emotion, which becomes a rehash of the election. After all, one man’s “inaction” becomes another’s “steady and continued progress.”

    And in NZ, it would just be a chance for certain parties to continue their underhanded tactics.

    • niggly

      “And in NZ, it would just be a chance for certain parties to continue their underhanded tactics.”

      A Recall election would be a FGI – Fucken good idea. Democracy in action, no pissing around and done dirt cheap too. Why endure the daily dysfunction of misfits and agendas for 3 years, so why not?

      But good point, this democracy would be subverted by the usual groups and activists etc, distorting the issues to get their team elected to weird power. Ergo more dysfunction but with different faces.

      But even my long departed Labour voting father used to say, keep politics out of local body affairs (Councils) eg elected citizens and officials should not be associated with political organisations like Labour (nowadays Greens / Business Roundtable perhaps etc).

      Perhaps then, candidates for local body elections can’t be affiliated with membership of a Political party or organisations that lobby politicians etc (and must have resigned membership, not made any donations or assisted any such organisation, for what, say 5 years prior)? There that’ll fix the activist bastards that wreak so much havoc in society when they try and impose their minority views when they get into power ;-)

      • jay cee

        the only reason people know that the candidate is standing for labour is because they are upfront about it as opposed to  “citizens and ratepayers”, read national.
        however what will kill the idea of any recall vote is good old apathy if you look how many voters turn out for most local body elections  you can imagine how thrilled they will be to be ask to participate a second time. 

  • Don McKenzie

    Excellent post.

  • Euan Rt

    But could you recall the whole council?

  • One of the reasons that Bob Parker should not have won – just because he spoke well during the Earthquakes doesn’t mean he’s a good Mayor or leader, this infighting was boiling up before the earthquakes hit and they had the local body elections.

  • Blair Mulholland

    Recall legislation is unnecessary and wrong.  Imagine if there had been recall legislation for Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson?  They would not have lasted five seconds, and New Zealand would be where Greece is now (or worse).  No, you elect someone for a full term, let them do their job, give their policies a bit of time to see whether they work, and only afterwards pass judgment.  You can’t run a country on current opinion polls.

    As I have pointed out before, the Swiss are the wrong people to give as an example of democracy, as, thanks to their “marvelous” system of constant referenda, they didn’t give women the vote in federal elections until the 1970s.  Appenzel Canton did not give women the vote locally until 1989.

    MPs can be booted from the House if they are convicted of a crime, and that is about as much recall as is required.

    • Hakim of Phut

      They were both sacked by their PMs. Problem solved

      • Blair Mulholland

        No they weren’t.  Douglas resigned, then later stood for re-election.  When this occured, Lange quit.  Richardson was offered Police and turned it down.

  • Don McKenzie

    Blair, If recall had been available in the days of Mr Muldoon we may not have needed the drastic change of direction that Roger Douglas and co put in place. Suggest you study the Swiss system in more depth and look at their overall results. cheers Don mac

    • Blair Mulholland

      Muldoon won three elections (four if you count 1969, in which he pretty much saved National) and outpolled Labour fairly consistently until Lange became leader of the opposition.  A recall would never have been successful on Muldoon, who was one of the smartest political operators this country has ever seen.  So I don’t see the relevance.

  • AnonWgtn

    Recall is just what Lianne Dalziel as Mayor and Jim Anderton as Mayoress would welcome.
    This is playing into their hands.

  • Guest

    NZ doesn’t need recall. It just needs commonsense, democratic controls on who can be elected in the first place.  In NZ already, felons & people in mental hospitals can’t vote or be elected. All we need to do is to extend that to unions, and the Labour and Green parties (and for local govt, to their sympathizers).

    In fact this proposal was in one of Brash’s 2025 task force report, this operates in Singapore & HK, so you can’t get natters etc elected anywhere important. 

    Far better than expensive & destabilizing “recall” elections.

  • MrV

    The Swiss have many other good ideas … keep looking.

    • Dr Wang

      Dirty Dazza is keen on those Swiss balls – that the sort of thing you mean?