Activists trying to recall Michigan governor face an uphill fight

Efforts to recall Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder in the wake of the drinking water crisis in Flint have gone on for months with few details released about how many signatures have been gathered – even as one group’s self-imposed signature-gathering deadline quietly passed this week. 

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers approved recall petitions targeting the governor from four individuals earlier this year. Each of those petitions, which the board approved between early February and late April, was to expire in six months, or 180 days.

Several of those whose recall petitions were approved did not immediately respond to AMI Newswire’s requests for comment.

One of the recall efforts is centered around  StopSnyder.com. The website, which grew out of the Rev. David Bullock’s recall petition drive, states that that group’s signature-gathering deadline was Monday of this week.

Efforts to contact the group running the website, the Committee to Recall Richard D. Snyder, were unsuccessful. According to papers filed at the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office, the committee had raised only $925 as of April 20.

In order to be successful, recall organizers would have to collect about 790,000 signatures over a 60-day period prior to the petition expiring.

Some of the organizers cite the health crisis that arose last year in Flint as a result of lead seeping into the city’s drinking water as the reason behind their efforts, according to the wording of the petitions. Others mention public education issues as reasons as to why the governor should be tossed out.

In response to a query from AMI Newswire, the governor's director of communications, Ari Adler, said in an email: "The governor understands and supports the right that people have to petition for changes in their government, including the recall of elected of elected officials. He is focused, however, on restoring the water system in Flint, helping the people of Flint recover from this crisis and continuing to lead the state of Michigan through an unprecedented comeback." 

The Michigan campaign has been the highest-profile recall nationwide at a time when the number of successful recalls seem to be spiking. The website Ballotpedia last week released the results of a study that found that the number of successful recall campaigns nationwide has been on the rise since the start of 2014.

A total of 9.2 percent of all targeted officeholders were successfully removed from their positions in 2014, Ballotpedia reported, while the percentage increased to 14.5 percent last year. In the first six months of 2016, the percentage stood at 10.9 percent.

“It looks like, at the very least, a substantially higher number of recalls will be initiated this year than in recent years,” Jason Swadley, Ballotpedia’s state desk editor, told AMI Newswire.  But he cautioned that 2016 is an unusual political year, so it’s hard to predict what the exact percentage for the entire year would be.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only three gubernatorial recall elections have been held during the nation’s history. North Dakota voters tossed out Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921, and California voters in 2003 cleared the path for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ascension to office with the recall of then-Gov. Gray Davis.

Opponents of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker gathered enough signatures to subject him to a recall election, but he defeated opposing candidates during special primary and runoff elections in 2012.

“The odds of the Snyder recall being successful are pretty low,” based on the history of removing state executives, Swadley said.

He added that recall rules have been tightened in Michigan as a result of legislation signed into law in 2012. The time allowed for signature gathering has been reduced  to 60 days from 90 days, and the standards for petition language are more strict, he said. In addition, the Board of State Canvassers, rather than county boards, now oversees the process, and recall signature-gathering campaigns are not allowed during the first and last year of officeholders’ terms when the term spans four years.

Now in the middle of a four-year term, Snyder is up for re-election in November 2018.

Fred Woodhams, spokesman for the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office, told AMI Newswire that recall elections in the state can only take place in May or August. It’s now too late for a recall election to occur in August of this year, even if organizers suddenly produced the needed signatures, so the earliest a recall could take place would be in May 2017, Woodhams said.

To qualify for an August 2017 election, recall organizers would have to turn in their signatures in May of next year, he said.

It’s conceivable that a recall campaign that produced the signatures later in 2017 could result in a recall election taking place in May 2018, but there might be less incentive to do so because Snyder is up for re-election in the fall of that year.

Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College in New York, offers another perspective on recall election activity nationwide.

Spivak, who blogs at the website Recallelections.blogspot.com, told AMI Newswire that the number of annual recall elections tends to ebb and flow over time, and most occur at the local level. Indeed, his numbers show a spike in recall elections occurring in 2012, a presidential election year.

“As a general position, I think voter anger is a strong motivator to recalls. But it may be that technological changes have had the biggest impact on recalls.”

Smartphones, demographic data and spreadsheets can all help streamline signature-gathering efforts, he said, allowing a low-cost campaign to reach grassroots voters.  “The Internet, email and social media allow unconnected voters to be drawn into a fight over a politician’s alleged misdeeds.”