Last week, the Idaho Falls Post Register broke the story that Idaho Falls City Council member Barbara Ehardt had appeared at a parole hearing at the Idaho State Correctional Center last week to urge parole for inmate Franklin Crazythunder.
In 2010, Crazythunder took six shots at an Idaho Falls policeman at traffic stop (luckily, missing). Ehardt justified her support by noting long-term ties to the inmate.
The Idaho Falls branch of the Fraternal Order of Police reacted sharply, criticizing Ehardt in a blistering interview with the Post Register and in a harsh Facebook post (which generated nearly 700 shares in less than 24 hours, an outstanding number for the local area).
Some have called for her recall – a difficult task. So, how does a recall of a public official work in Idaho?
The answer can be found in Idaho Code § 34-1701 et seq. In Idaho, it’s possible to recall state officers (ie. the governor, lieutenant-governor, secretary of state, state controller, state treasurer, attorney general, and superintendent of public instruction), members of the state senate and state house, county officers (members of the board of county commissioners, sheriff, treasurer, assessor, prosecuting attorney, clerk of the district court, and coroner), city officers (mayor and city council members) and special district elected officers or school district trustees. Id.
The first step is to prepare a recall petition addressed to the Secretary of State (for state officers and members of the Legislature), county clerks (for county officers, special district officers and school district trustees) and city clerks (for mayor and city council members). Idaho Code § 34-1703. The petition wording must call for a special recall election and can include up to 200 words setting forth the reason for the recall. Id.
Before circulating the recall petition, a copy of the proposed petition must be signed by 20 electors eligible to sign and submitted to the appropriate clerk to approve the form of the petition. Once certified, supporters have 75 days to circulate the petition and gather sufficient signatures. Before submitting a stack of signatures for verification, the signature gatherer must provide a notarized verification that all signatures were made in their individual presence. Idaho Code § 34-1705.
The number of valid signatures to trigger a runoff varies by office.
For statewide officers, registered voters equal to 20% of the number of electors registered to vote in the last general election for governor are required. Idaho Code § 34-1702(1). That means a statewide recall for such an office would require 150,470 signatures, which is equivalent to 20% of the 752,351 electors registered on the cutoff date for the 2014 general election.
For a member of the Legislature, the number is 20% of the electorate registered in the relevant legislative district at the general election the member was last elected. Idaho Code § 34-1702(2). A similar approach is used for county officers. Id.
For city offices, it is 20% of the electors registered at the last city general election. Idaho Code § 34-1702(3). For instance, to recall Ehardt, one would look to the last Idaho Falls City election in 2013, when 24,941 voters were registered. There, the required number for a recall of her would be 4,988 registered Idaho Falls voters.
For special service district officers and school district trustees, the method of calculating the signatures is more complicated. It is 50% of the votes cast in the last special district or school board election. Idaho Code § 34-1702(4). If there has been no election in the past 6 years, then it is 20% of the electors registered at the time the petition is filed. Id.
I couldn’t find any provision authorizing a recall of U.S. senators or members of the U.S. House of Representatives. And, there is a reason for that. The United States Constitution sets the qualifications and terms of those offices. Thus, there is no applicable recall right for federal officials in Idaho or another U.S. state.
Once signatures are certified by the clerk of the political subdivision, the officer holder has 5 days to resign to avoid a runoff. If they don’t, the recall is triggered on one of 4 dates: The second Tuesday in March, the third Tuesday in May, the last Tuesday in August and the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. The clerk of the political subdivision must call the election on a date that is least 45 days after the certification date. That gives the clerk some power to place the election on a low turnout election date which can make a successful recall extremely difficult to pull off.
Here’s why. To recall any elected officer, two requirements must be met: 1) The recall must carry with a majority of the votes cast and 2) The number of votes cast in favor of the recall must equal or exceed the votes cast at the last general election for the person who is the subject of the recall. Idaho Code § 34-1712 (3). That is an exceptionally difficult standard to meet.
Oddly enough, if the person being recalled was appointed to office, then only a simply majority is required to prevail. Id.
Recalls are attempted in Idaho from time to time. In 1971, State Sen. Fisher Ellsworth and State Rep. Alden Hyde were recalled for supporting a legislative pay raise. Idaho has never recalled a statewide officer. At least one county commissioner (in Latah County) was recalled in 1994.
Earlier this year, in March, a recall fell short directed against Jefferson County Prosecutor Robin Dunn because, though 81% of voters cast a ballot in favor of the recall, the supporting total was far short of the number cast in the 2012 general election (a presidential year) for him when he ran uncontested.
Circling back to Idaho Falls City Council member Ehardt, any attempt to pursue a recall against her would likely face long odds given the Idaho history on recalls. But, an inflamed electorate can tip the scales. Recalls are designed to make elected officials a bit nervous. And, that is probably healthy for the political system.
A followup . . As I was preparing to submit this column, I discovered that Ehardt had backtracked a bit. To learn more, go here. Of note, the parole board denied the request to release Mr. Crazythunder.