Lawmaker Wants to Bring Recall Elections to Maryland

Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

With California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) facing a high-profile recall effort, one state lawmaker wants to bring recall elections to Maryland.

Del. Reid J. Novotny (R-Howard) told Maryland Matters that he has fielded calls from constituents asking if Maryland has a formal recall system. Although various local governments have their own provisions for removing office holders, Maryland has no recall system for officials elected to statewide office or other state lawmakers.

Novotny plans to introduce a sweeping recall bill during the 2022 legislative session that would give Marylanders broad authority to recall state and even local elected officials. Specifics of that bill are still up in the air, and Novotny noted that it will be a “very complicated piece of legislation to get right.”

“Part of the legislation would be putting the baseline for a recall anywhere, of any position,” Novotny said.

Novotny envisions a bill that would contain specific provisions and recall requirements for different elected offices. The number of signatures required to begin a recall of a state delegate, for instance, would be fewer than the signatures required for a recall of a holder of statewide office such as governor or comptroller.

“It really depends on the amount of people who vote for the person, in my opinion, and also, how large of a lift it is,” he said.

Novotny is working with the General Assembly’s professional bill drafters to look at other states’ recall provisions and create a comprehensive bill. A total of 19 states allow recall elections of state officials, according to Ballotpedia, and Virginia has a recall process that refers the decision to a circuit court.

According to information provided by Maryland Municipal League researcher Jim Peck, some municipalities have provisions to remove mayors and council members for felony convictions or for failing to attend regular council meetings without excuses, but few have provisions for recall elections.

Among the few who do is Landover Hills. There, a referendum on whether to remove a mayor or council member would go before voters if a recall petition garners signatures of at least 20% of voters in the town or the respective council ward.

Novotny said that while the recall effort in California drew his attention to creating a statewide recall system, constituents have most often asked him about recalling elected school board members. He hopes that introducing a consistent statewide recall system would make officials on all levels of government more accountable.

“Some people say recalls are every two, four or six years when there’s an election,” he said. “But I do feel that people who are elected to serve the public need to serve the public.”

Novotny said he spoke to several local elected officials in Howard County about the plan and found mixed reactions. Some officials felt the reform would make for a more responsive government, and others felt that it would create unnecessary stress and complications. Novotny said his bill will contain provisions to shore up the system against recalls for political retribution.

“I know in a hyper-partisan world that we live in now, sometimes there are things that come down that are just pretty extreme,” he said.

California’s secretary of state certified on July 1 that 1,719,900 valid signatures were submitted for recalling Newsom — enough to trigger an election on Sept. 14, according to the nonprofit news publication CalMatters. No reason is necessary to initiate a recall in California, CalMatters reported, and the only requirement is enough signatures to surpass 12% of voters in the last election for the state office in question.

Novotny hasn’t yet decided what thresholds would be required to initiate a recall election under his bill.

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