Recall expert checks out Cd'A

Spivak has shared views with CNN, New York Times

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COEUR d'ALENE - Joshua Spivak has been closely following recall efforts for 15 years.

The Columbia Law School graduate wrote his master's thesis on recall elections in this country, and he has become an expert, if there ever was one, on the process.

CNN, CBS Radio, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, LA Times and Washington Post are some of the news sources that have tapped him as a recall voice worth listening to.

More news agencies are covering recall elections because more recall elections are occurring in the U.S.

"It's been a growing trend for at least 20 years," Spivak, now a consultant for law firms in Berkeley, Calif., told The Press in a phone interview Tuesday.

In 2011, 151 recall elections were held, 30 of them for mayoral seats.

So far this year, 103 have gotten on the ballot or the incumbents have resigned. Those are the first two years of compiled recall data across a variety of elected seats. Before that the data isn't as complete, but from 1908 through 1981, for example, there were seven recall elections for state legislators.

"Most people like voter anger (as a reason for more recall elections)," Spivak said. "But come on, voters weren't angry before? People weren't angry in the 1930s? ... There has to be something behind that, and I think it's technology."

Technology helped Spivak follow Coeur d'Alene's recall effort online, which he has been tracking since it was launched April 5. Spivak shared his insight on recall elections in general, and what a look at the numbers could mean.

"I thought it was going to be one of the more prominent recall (efforts) of the year," he said of Coeur d'Alene, calling it a city with name recognition. "To me, any time it's a national city" it's a big deal.

In each voting jurisdiction different variables do come into play, so numbers by themselves can be misleading, Spivak acknowledged. But using the last two years as a benchmark, Spivak came away with a few impressions on the Coeur d'Alene scene. He said that assuming enough signatures are certified by Tuesday to warrant a recall election on four Coeur d'Alene incumbents:

* Recall supporters should prefer an Aug. 28 election date, while the opponents should prefer Nov. 6.

That's because an August election would see lower than normal voter turnout, and the petition gatherers have already proven they're motivated enough to go to the polls. In a presidential election - Nov. 6 - more people will be casting votes for incumbents anyway, and that higher turnout could be more likely to vote in favor of the targeted city incumbents.

* Typically for recall elections that target multiple people, the clean sweep factor comes into play. Often, all will either pass or fail in unison. An example of that happened this month in Oregon, when all five targeted politicians survived in unison.

* Recall margins are often lopsided one way or the other.

Wisconsin's recent closely contested, gubernatorial recall attempt is more of an exception than the norm, Spivak said.

"They tend to the blowout, whether it's winning or losing," he said, pointing to last year's example of Mayor Carlos Alvarez of Miami-Dade County, who was voted out of office with 88 percent of the vote favoring his ouster.

* The general rule of thumb, though it varies state to state, is that 10 to 15 percent of petition signatures will be thrown out for not being certified. If those numbers hold true locally, enough signatures would hold up to prompt a recall election on all four incumbents.

* If a recall makes it to ballot, it could be a bad sign for the incumbents.

Of the 151 recall elections last year, 85 resulted in the politician leaving office.

Of the 103 recall elections so far this year, according to Spivak's research, 38 incumbents survived, 38 were removed from office, 15 resigned and the rest are yet to play out.

* Recalls are all but impossible for many not to take personally.

Spivak said this is because so much effort goes into getting them on the ballot. It's different than just being voted out of office, because so many extra steps have to be fulfilled to make them happen.

* Recalls can unite more political support for the targeted incumbent.

An example of this would be then-San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, whose political career took off after she won a recall attempt with 81 percent support in 1982. She then went on to become a U.S. senator.

* The increasing recall trend should continue nationally.

This gets back to Spivak's belief that social media and information sharing have made campaigning cheaper and more effective, so groups can spread their political message to a wider audiences faster than ever before. Added to that is the component that past efforts have been successful - more successful in fact than challengers seeking office against an incumbent, who retain their seats generally 85 percent of the time.

"That's a big draw of the recall," Spivak, 38, said of the success rate. "People see it as a useful device for change."

Spivak wrote one of the few peer-reviewed papers on the use of the recall in California for California History magazine in 2004, and has starting a book on the subject, he said. His recall blog is online at

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