While the media is largely focused on the outcome of the Republican Presidential primaries, another contest is going on that rarely occurs in the world of government and politics. In Wisconsin, the current Republican Governor, Scott Walker, is going through a recall election in June of this year. If Walker loses he will have his four-year term, to which he was duly elected, cut in half. Additionally, in Wisconsin, the Lt. Governor and four State Senators including the Majority leader, are facing recall elections on the same date. How does this happen?
The United States Constitution makes no provision for the recall, or unseating, of federal positions such as Representatives, Senators or the President. Recall, along with initiatives, referendums and direct primaries came about as part of the Progressive Reform Movement in the 19th century.
At the State level, some 20 states have provisions for recalls. Eighteen of these states have recall provisions in their state constitution, one state permits recalls under state law, and one state allows recall by trial. New York State is not one of them. Thirty states do not have provisions for recall of state-level positions. Seven of the states that do permit recalls require specific grounds such as some malfeasance or misconduct, while in eleven of the states, no grounds are required.
There have only been two successful recalls of state governors in history. In 1921 the Governor of North Dakota was recalled and, more recently, in 2003 Governor Gray Davis in California was recalled and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The upcoming recall election in Wisconsin might have taken place on May 8 but for the fact that there are four Democratic candidates
in contention to replace Walker if the recall is successful. Instead, on May 8 in Wisconsin, there will be a primary to determine who the Democratic candidate for Governor will be. (If someone comes forward to challenge Walker there could also be a Republican primary that day but that is considered unlikely.) The election is now set for June 5 in which Governor Walker will, in effect, face an early re-election or lose to his Democratic opponent. This is not a referendum but an actual election. The winner will still face another election when the current term is up in two years.