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Home arrow Political science arrow Evaluating Democratic Innovations: Curing the Democratic Malaise?


The recall allows citizens to remove elected representatives from office, provided enough signatures are on the recall petition, in which case it is put to a general vote. A great many fail for technical and legal reasons, and many fail to meet the minimum threshold of votes required. The recall is used primarily in the USA where it is quite widely spread at the local government level (61 per cent of cities) and has had a degree of success. Between 1996 and 2001, recalls were filed against 4 per cent of mayors and 5 per cent of council members in the USA, with success rates of 18 per cent and 29 per cent, respectively in the subsequent votes ( Like initiatives, recalls are less common at the state level, where only eighteen provide for them, and where their use is exceptional and examples of their success even rarer. There have only been two successful examples of state governor recalls, the victory of Arnold Schwarzenegger in California in 2003 being the most notable. Recalls are not allowed at all in federal government. In other words, the more important the political level and the more there is at political stake, the less the instruments of direct democracy are likely to be put into place and the less successful they are likely to be.

Although it is possible that the danger of recall might cause politicians to be more responsive to popular wishes, it seems more likely that their ineffectiveness is well known to the political class, which is more likely to discount than fear them. Experience of the recall as an instrument of direct democracy, therefore, suggests that it does not have a great potential so far as this may be judged from the American experience.

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