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Mayoral Recall Bill Filed in Illinois Legislature

Amidst ongoing and widespread protests calling for Mayor Rahm Emanuel's resignation, Illinois State Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-8) has filed legislation, House Bill 4356, which would provide a mechanism for recalling the Mayor of Chicago.

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Chicago protesters call on Anita Alvarez and Rahm Emanuel to resign., @aaroncynic

State Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-8) has filed legislation in Springfield which would provide for a mechanism for recalling the Mayor of Chicago. The bill is House Bill 4356.

Ford's bill is of course not submitted arbitrarily. With a recent poll suggesting an outright majority of Chicagoans want Rahm Emanuel to resign, Emanuel being steadfast that he will not do so, and no existing legal mechanism in place by which Emanuel might otherwise be removed from office, HB4356 could very well become a very hot topic in Springfield.

Bearing in mind that the specifics are liable to change via amendment, Ford's bill contains the following provisions:

  • A recall petition would need valid signatures totaling at least 15% of the number of votes cast in the preceding mayoral election. Using the numbers from the April runoff, this would set the current signature requirement at 88,610.
  • At least 50 signatures would have to come from each of the 50 wards. This is not a very tall order compared to the total number needed.
  • The petition must be preceded by a formal affidavit submitted to the Board of Elections signed by a named proponent and at least two sitting aldermen.
  • The recall election would occur no more than 100 days after the Board of Elections deems the petition to be in order.
  • The recall election would consist solely of the question "Shall (name) be recall from the office of Mayor?" If the recall vote is successful, a separate election would be held to fill the vacant mayoral seat.
  • Prospective mayoral candidates would have to collect 12,500 valid signatures within 50 days after the filing of the recall petition. This means that while the recall election would not explicitly state the names of other candidates, in all likelihood, the people who would be standing to replace the potentially recalled mayor would already be known as of the time of the recall election.
  • If the mayor is recalled, a separate election would be held consisting of the candidates who had qualified for the ballot by petition. If nobody wins an outright majority in that election, then a third election would take place as a runoff between the two highest vote-getters.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Ford's legislation as currently written is that the election to remove the incumbent mayor would be separate from the election to replace that person. This is a different approach than has been used in high-profile recall elections over the last couple of decades, most notably the successful recall of California Governor Gray Davis in 2003 and the unsuccessful recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in 2012. While the methods in those two gubernatorial elections were not identical, in both cases, there was only one election. In California, there were two separate votes on the same ballot: one as to whether to recall Davis or not, and the other as to who would replace him (which was famously won by Arnold Schwarzenegger). In Wisconsin, there was no separate recall vote at all; instead it was essentially just a new gubernatorial election, which Walker won outright.

Expect Ford's bill to change slightly, because bills like this rarely go through exactly as originally written.

Of course, just because the bill has been submitted does not mean it will even come to a vote. Perhaps the most intriguing question surrounding the introduction of this bill is whether House Speaker Michael Madigan will even allow it to come to the floor.

Give Ford credit for pushing the issue. Notably, he has done so three months before a primary election for state legislators, which should put pressure on many of them to get on board with his bill. When an apparent outright majority of voters express an opinion that an incumbent should resign, basic tenets of democracy compel that voters be given an opportunity to pursue that belief. Springfield has rarely been a place where basic tenets of democracy have won the day, but these are highly unusual circumstances.

One thing to bear in mind is that it is entirely feasible that even if Ford's bill makes it through the legislature, and even if over 100,000 valid signatures are collected on a recall petition, and even if popular and prominent candidates emerge as would-be replacements, Emanuel could very well survive a recall election. After all, Scott Walker survived his recall, and in the process, made an even more prominent national name for himself. It would take several months before a recall election could take place, between getting the legislation passed, collecting the recall signatures, and scheduling the election, and by the summer of 2016, everyone who voted for Emanuel may very well feel he's nevertheless better than any prospective alternatives.

Speculating on the eventual outcome, though, is getting ahead of ourselves. First Ford has to navigate his bill through the legislature. And he'll need a lot of help -- and probably also luck -- along the way.