A famous quote often attributed to Winston Churchill says “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” He may have a point, because democracy can be messy. But it’s also hopeful in that we are constantly reminded that our government is by the people and for the people, which is precisely where the hope rests. We can always change our institutions for the better when we all believe and work together toward a common end.
Sometimes we get it wrong, though. Sometimes we elect people to represent us and our values, and those elected officials let us down. They may claim to be doing the people’s work, but actions always speak louder than words and reveal the true character of these “leaders.” And when those whom we believed would best represent us continually let us down, we the people have recourse to remove them from public office.
While the process works differently in each state, here in Florida there are specific guidelines listed in statute 100.361. Here in Hillsborough County, for instance, if we were to hypothetically conduct a recall, this is how the process would work:
- The elected official must have served at least one quarter of his or her term in office. Therefore, if the office holder were sworn in on 11/22/16, we would have to wait an additional four months from today to begin the proceedings.
- In the initial “recall petition,” a 200 word statement listing the reasons why the official should be recalled must be turned in along with 5% of the electorate’s signatures. All paperwork must be received by the Elections Office no later than 30 days from the initial signature date. For example, if signature collection began on Black Friday when thousands of people will be out and about in public, the complete recall petition must be submitted no later than Christmas Eve.
- Once the signatures are verified at a cost of 10 cents each, the elected official would have five days to return a defensive statement. After this has been received, the Elections Office prepares rosters called “Recall Petition and Defense” that has room for 30% of the electorate’s signatures, yet only 15% must be collected and verified; the time frame allotted is 60 days.
- After the requisite signatures and paperwork have been submitted, the clerk notifies the elected official who can then resign; if no resignation is tendered within 5 days, a judge selects a date that is 30 to 60 days out, and the people vote to remove or keep the office holder in the position.
- If the recall is successful / after the election results have been certified, the judge will then establish another date 30 to 60 days from then to hold a special election so that the seat may be filled for the remainder of the term.
As for the removed official? He or she cannot run for public office for the next two years.
It may require many dedicated volunteers to successfully perform a recall, but I believe our democracy works best when others stand together and are willing to find common ground, forge ahead, and overcome adversity.