Editorial: Clarify rules for recalls

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Sorry, but the recall debate isn't over.

In fact, prior to the next session, legislators should put their heads together and talk a great deal about it, then adopt stronger, clearer laws in 2013.

Both sides of the recent attempt to recall four Coeur d'Alene City Council members are still sorting out the significance of lessons learned, but they can largely agree on the need for clarity in state recall election statutes.

One concern is the nebulous nature of the 75-day window from the start of the petition drive to the last moment the petition signatures can be verified. Between the offices of the Secretary of State, the Kootenai County Clerk and the Coeur d'Alene City Clerk, nobody seemed to clearly understand how that 75 days should be divided between collecting signatures, turning them in to city officials and then having the county verify those signatures. The timeline seemed to twist and turn like an unruly river, leaving too much room for arbitrary interpretation. The fact that the Secretary of State's office changed its mind in the midst of the Coeur d'Alene petition drive offers ample proof that more specificity is needed for all parties involved.

We're troubled by at least two other aspects of Idaho recall laws. One involves registration; the other, establishing a legal cause for recalls.

As it stands now, recall petition gatherers can carry registration cards with them and have people register to vote on the spot. No identification is required of the person registering, leaving the possibility wide open that someone can register to vote and sign a petition without being a resident or even being the person he or she says he or she is. Further, petition gatherers tend to be volunteers who have a strong personal interest in the outcome of a recall drive. The state should require some level of competence or qualification for anyone entrusted to register people to vote.

Idaho is one of very few states that allows recall drives without any requirement of alleged malfeasance. Recall drives are expensive for taxpayers and can take a heavy toll on a community in other ways, like civic pride and economic development.

At these high costs, some standard of official misconduct should be required by law. Those bringing a recall issue before the public should have to cite specific charges of malfeasance on behalf of the recall targets. Merely disagreeing with elected officials' decisions isn't enough. The remedy for that is a general election.

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