Why we need the power to recall mayors

By Douglas Carswell
November 8, 2022

On election day, we all get to decide who holds public office. But what if the person we elect proves to be a total dud? What if it turns out that they can scarcely run a bath, let alone a city?

Right now, there’s not a lot anyone can do besides sit back and watch the incompetence pile up until the next election rolls around. Good news for dud politicians, not such great news for everyone else.    

Local people in Mississippi need to be given the power to recall local mayors that do not measure up. When the potholes keep growing and the homicide rates keep rising and boil water notices keep coming, there comes a point when local people should be able to act. If enough local residents sign a petition, it should be possible to trigger a simple ‘yes / no’ recall ballot.

“Giving people the power to recall a mayor” some might suggest “would ensure that mayors never take difficult decisions”.

Really? Isn’t that an argument against electing officials in the first place? Having public officials held accountable for what they decide to do in office is surely the essence of democracy.

A few mayors I can think of have managed to make some pretty terrible decisions. Had they known that they could be held accountable for their A-grade folly, they might not have made quite such a mess of things in the first place.

Any incumbent mayor reading this article would, I am sure, be quick to point out that they are already accountable. Mayors face re-election every few years, even without a recall ballot.

True, but come election day, voter choices are influenced by a myriad of factors. Some folk will be influenced by what is happening in the national news. Others might vote in a general election on the basis of broader questions of identity and party affiliation.

The beauty of a recall vote is its simplicity. Voters are invited to make a simple judgment as to whether the current officeholder is up to the job. It’s not about preferences for a particular party, or ‘their’ political side, or what they saw on Fox News or CNN the night before.

“Why only mayors?”, you might ask. “If recall is such a great idea, why not extend it to all elected officials?”

Put simply, because we need to start somewhere. Introducing a power of recall is going to be contentious. Rather like the issue of term limits, there will be no shortage of politicians who will come out against it. Turkeys don’t vote for Thanksgiving.  

By applying the idea of recall elections initially to just mayors, we might just manage to achieve change.

Besides, recall elections work best when held locally. There is far greater proximity between local voters and their mayor than there is when it comes to state-wide elected officials. This means that local people are in a much better position to judge how their mayor is actually performing at their job.

I believe passionately in recall elections. So much so in fact that back when I was a Member of the British Parliament I even managed to recall myself. In 2014, fed up with the left-wing direction of the then “Conservative” government (no change there), I switched parties.  

I did not have to, but I voluntarily resigned my seat in Parliament so that I could then face a special election – and the judgment of those I served locally. Voters overwhelmingly backed me. Public officials that have the support of the public have nothing to fear from recall votes.

Recall elections are an established part of America’s tradition of democracy. Right now nineteen other States in America have some form of recall. Allowing people in Mississippi to recall local mayors would bring us into line with what happens elsewhere.

In some sense, Mississippians already have the power to remove elected officials outside of ordinary elections. There exists buried inside the Mississippi code some provision to trigger the removal of those in office – but it is an arcane and archaic procedure that has seldom, if ever, been used.  

Creating a right of recall that actually works is long overdue.


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