Recalling an elected official is a drastic remedy; it should not be so easy that it becomes a cudgel wielded for mere political spite. On the other hand, it should not be so difficult as to be virtually impossible when clearly warranted.
Unfortunately, Louisiana's recall law strongly favors elected miscreants, even when they become an embarrassment to their peers and constituents.
Two recent examples stand out: former St. Tammany Coroner Dr. Peter Galvan and current Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni. Galvan pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges and served more than two years in jail. Yenni admitted sexting a 17-year-old high school senior while running for political office.
Both men were targeted in high-profile recall efforts that failed, mostly because of the unreasonably large number of voter signatures required on recall petitions. Under Louisiana law, one-third of the electorate in most jurisdictions must sign a petition within 180 days just to put the question on the ballot. Then, of course, a majority in the recall election must vote to give that official the heave-ho.
What saved Galvan and Yenni was the one-third voter signature requirement. Nowadays it takes a hotly contested national or statewide election just to get a third of the voters to the polls. Getting that many to sign a recall petition is all but impossible, especially in large parishes like Jefferson and St. Tammany.
Louisiana's recall law was written before the so-called Motor Voter Law of the 1990s. Before Motor Voter, between a third and 40 percent of the voting age population wasn't even registered. The vast majority of those unregistered voters just didn't care much about politics. Today they're almost all registered, but they still don't care. Proof: Election Day turnout has tanked since Motor Voter. Roughly the same number of votes are cast, but the larger universe of registered voters drives the turnout percentage way down.
Today, that one-third signature requirement translates into nearly 50 percent of the pre-Motor Voter numbers — a ridiculously high threshold that explains why so few recall efforts succeed, even against crooks.
State Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Covington, wants to see the voter signature requirement lowered, particularly in larger jurisdictions. He told me last week he plans to propose a "tiered" system that lowers the threshold in larger parishes to somewhere between 15 and 20 percent. That's consistent with pre-Motor Voter registration statistics. Moreover, Hollis would keep higher thresholds in smaller districts.
Consider the failed petition against Yenni. Recall organizers needed more than 90,000 signatures — more than the number of total votes cast in Yenni's "high-turnout" 2015 election for parish president, and nearly twice the number of votes Yenni received in that election. Why should it take that many voter signatures to recall someone?
With all the difficult decisions confronting lawmakers this spring, Hollis will have to work overtime to convince his colleagues to make recalls more accessible — not unlike the Herculean effort required to get a third of a large electorate to sign a recall petition. Here's hoping he succeeds.