Georgia Recall Law

My blog has finally been discovered by the hometown crowd. How do I know? I’ve gotten several emails from people asking that I put up an explanation of how Georgia’ recall laws work.

In Macon, Georgia, where I live, our mayor is in the middle of a recall process. He is quite hated by many people in town, but also quite loved by others.

The process is a combined process using both judicial proceedings and a popular vote. To start, petition supporters must collect 100 names to file a petition. The signers of the application must all be residents of the city and have been registered voters during the last election held for the race in question – the 2003 mayoral general election.

If the 100 names on the application are verified, the recall group can file a petition stating the legal grounds on which it seeks to base the recall. The petition cannot seek to recall an elected official for sheer spite. There must be legal grounds and the petition must state the factual basis for the legal grounds.

Once the petition is filed, the party against whom the recall is filed can challenge the recall petition in court within four days of receiving notice of the recall. In court, the judge will presume that the stated grounds on the petition are true and then determine if a reasonable person, given those grounds, could determine that a law has been broken.

As an example, in Hamlett v. Hubbard, 262 Ga. 279 (1992), a recall petition was filed against a school board member.

The application contained five alleged “fact or facts upon wich the ground or grounds are based,” contending that the school board member:
(a) has violated State and County School Board policy;
(b) has violated the Georgia Open and Public Meetings law;
(c) has violated the terms of a 1973 Federal Court order on desegregation;
(d) has failed to prevent students from out-of-county or from out-of-district schools from illegally attending county schools; and,
(e) has failed to pursue policies which would allow Meriwether County to take advantage of $6.5 million dollars in State funds.

262 GA. 279 at 280.

The Georgia Supreme Court held that allegations (a) through (c) were mere conclusions and allegation (e) was too vague. However, the court held that allegation (d) “states with adequate particularity acts or omissions that may constitute grounds for recall, in that it is specific enough – in the context of the controversy – to inform the public and the school board member of the substance of the complaint.” Id.

Put another way, “a court should consider the following: 1) assuming the fact or facts to be true, [do] they allege misconduct which constitutes a legally sufficient ground for recall . . . 2) if so, whether the fact or facts are stated with ‘reasonable particularity.’” Brooks v. Branch, 262 Ga. 658 (1993).

If the court determines that the petition is meritorious and has legal grounds to proceed, the recall effort can then begin collecting signatures. Generally, the petition drive must collect the signatures of 30% of the registered voters of the area wherein the politician is elected. The voters must have been registered at the time of the last general election in which the politician was elected. Again, in Macon’s case, 2003.

If the initial application process goes forward, the court okays the petition, and enough signatures are collected and verified, then the recall effort goes before the voters. If the recall process fails at any step, no other recall can happen for a 365 day period. Woe unto those who go into the process lightly.

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Erick Erickson

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