Illinois voters could gain recall power

SPRINGFIELD — Months after Illinoisans voted to give themselves the right to recall a governor they're dissatisfied with, a push is on to subject other elected officials to the same rules.

At least some people want the power because some local governments already have recall provisions.

And Buffalo Grove may have been the first Illinois municipality in history to recall an elected official when voters ousted Trustee Lisa Stone in November for her controversial behavior on the board.

Now, Rep. Karen May has introduced legislation that would allow voters to recall other elected officials through a direct vote.

The Highland Park Democrat said she believes voters should have that authority, especially after a scandal hit her hometown's park district. Multiple officials were receiving pay over $300,000 a year.

“This is constituent-driven,” May said. “People felt they had no recourse if someone had four years left on their term and refused to step down.”

In Buffalo Grove, Trustee Jeff Braiman served on the board through the historic recall and said while it was an effective process for voters, it delayed a lot of the board's progress for months.

He said the ability for voters to recall could pressure officials to act in a professional manner so the long process could be avoided.

“If we're not performing our functions as voters want, they should have a right to vote us out,” Braiman said. “You would hope if there is a legitimate concern about recall, the person would modify their behavior.”

May's plan could be considered by lawmakers this spring.

It's not necessarily a new concept. After former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested, lawmakers considered several recall plans, some of which included local officials, state lawmakers and even judges. In the end, only the provision for governors was approved.

May's proposal might catch heat, though, because under her plan, officials with two-year terms — such as state lawmakers in the Illinois House — would be exempted. Braiman criticized the exemption as “typical Springfield.”

And though May's plan would make recalling officials possible, it also would be tough to do.

Petitioners would have to gather 20 percent of registered voters' signatures within the boundaries of the respective unit of government. The petition must be submitted at least 61 days before the next election and the public official in question must have more than 17 months left in his or her term to be recalled.

Ken Menzel, an attorney for the Illinois State Board of Elections, said 20 percent of eligible voters is a lofty requirement that would limit the number of recall cases.

“You need a pretty large portion of a jurisdiction to sign a petition, so that alone would limit the number of times we would see it,” Menzel said. “I just don't know that it's all that common that we have somebody so unpopular that you would see a move to do something like this.”

Patricia Piacente of Highland Park urged May to push for recall legislation because of what happened in the park district. While she supports the idea of voters having recall authority, she thought May's proposal was too limited.

“I don't think there should be exemptions like that,” Piacente said. “If they behave badly I think they should be able to be recalled at anytime.”

May said a representative's term is so short that by the time a petition has been filed and a recall would take place it would be time for another election.