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The Basics of Recall

Joel Gerring

By Joel Gerring, MASB Assistant Legal Counsel

DashBoard, Dec. 6, 2017

Michigan voters have a fundamental right reserved by the State Constitution, Article II, Section 8, to recall “elective” public officials from office. The recall process applies to all public officers elected by the people, aside from judges.

Under current law, voters may use the recall in order to remove local school board members, but it appears that the recall may not be used to remove intermediate school district board members. The reason for this difference is rooted in the way in which local and ISD board members are selected to serve. The Michigan Election Code provides that “[e]very elective officer in the state, except a judicial officer, is subject to recall.” While local board members are chosen by the local community through a popular election, ISD board members are chosen by those people who serve the ISD’s local, constituent school boards. Since that process is not a popular election in which all voters of the community may cast a ballot, ISD board members are not considered elective officials subject to recall.

The recall process begins when a person or group of people (“recaller”) decide that the conduct or decision of a school board member merits recalling the official during the current term of office. The recaller must then follow the requirements in statute, which require a number of steps, before a recall petition can be filed and a recall election can be scheduled.

First, the recaller must submit proposed petition language to the board of county election commissioners. This petition language must, among other things, state the reasons for the recall in a clear and factual way. Before recall petitions can be circulated in the community for signatures, the county election commission must determine whether the reasons for recall are stated clearly and factually in the petition language.

After the petitions have been signed and filed, the filing official checks to see if the petitions are in proper form and if the number of signatures collected is sufficient. The school board member named in the petition may challenge these signatures.

If enough valid signatures are collected, a recall election is then held. The targeted official becomes a candidate for the current seat, and any other qualified resident may also run to fill the remaining portion of the term as well. Whichever candidate wins the election, incumbent or challenger, that person fills the remaining part of the current term.

A school board member against whom a recall effort is underway remains a full-fledged member of the board of education and must continue to perform all duties at least until the election is held and the results are certified.

School board members who are named in a recall petition in Michigan should understand that the reasons for recall are not limited to misfeasance, malfeasance or nonfeasance in office. School board members may be recalled simply based on positions taken or votes cast in the course of fulfilling their official duties. So long as a petition sets forth any act or acts in the course of conduct in office of the board member whose recall is sought, the petition may form the basis for a recall election. The reasons for recall must be stated clearly and factually, and the board of county election commissioners is required to approve petition language that is at least clear and factual.

If you have any questions regarding the recall process, MASB has several resources to take advantage of, including our Surviving Recall booklet. Also, be aware that the rules governing recall change frequently. As such, any member facing recall shouldn’t hesitate to contact the Legal Department for additional information and guidance. 

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