CALIFORNIA RECALL ELECTION
By Lara Maupin, formerly a social studies teacher
and student government adviser at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and
Technology in Alexandria, Virginia
California is the nation's most populous state and its economy is a large part
of the nation's economy. In recent years, Californians have endured an energy
crisis, budget shortfalls, and other economic troubles. Frustration over the state
of the economy as well as a trend toward direct democracy, exemplified by numerous
propositions and ballot initiatives, and 1.7 million dollars spent by Congressman
Darrell Issa to get the recall measure on the ballot have resulted in the California
October 7, California voters will have the opportunity to recall Democratic Governor
Gray Davis and replace him with one of 135 candidates. The field of replacement
candidates, most of whom have no relevant political experience and some of whom
are famous or even notorious, has caused many analysts to call the recall a joke.
Others, however, maintain that the increase in citizen interest and participation
generated by the recall is positive.
the California recall election an example of democracy in action or have Californians
taken citizen activism to a ridiculous extreme? In this lesson, your secondary
students will attempt to answer this question. This lesson requires 1 - 2 class
periods. It is especially relevant in a government or civics class, but may be
used in any social studies class in which current events are examined. You may
extend your study of the California recall elections with one of the suggested
activities given below.
- Identify basic
facts about the structure and history of recall elections in California and the
the pros and cons of a gubernatorial recall election
Students will need copies of the background handout and articles from the Online
NewsHour coverage of the recall election cited below or computers with Internet
access. No special textbooks or materials are required.
to National Standards
your students the following handout (teacher's
key) and ask them to use articles from the
Online NewsHour coverage
of the Gray Davis Recall Election (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/local/davis_recall/)
in order to complete it. Students may work individually or in small groups.
You may wish to review the following key terms with your students.
- direct democracy
- form of government in which all citizens have the opportunity to participate
directly in decision-making (e.g. ancient Athens, New England town meeting) -
as opposed to representative democracy
- a way citizens may force a public vote on a constitutional amendment or other
legal question with a petition
- a legal amendment set forth to be voted on by the electorate, rather than their
- a direct vote by the electorate or poll on a legislative, constitutional, or
- to charge a public official with misconduct in office or criminal activity
Ask your students to consider the costs of the recall election, the amount
of media coverage it will get, and what they have learned about the number, range,
qualifications, and goals of the replacement candidates. Then, have your students
debate the pros and cons of recall elections. Questions such as the following
may be used to spark debate:
Is the California recall election a farce or an example of a healthy democracy
voters already have the opportunity to remove officials through elections and
impeachment - why do they also need recalls?
the target of a recall election have to be guilty of corruption or wrongdoing
(as they must be in some states but not California) - and not simply a disappointment
or unable to solve the state's problems?
elected officials have to face the immediate chance of recall - or should they
be given the time to do their jobs allowed for by their terms? Do recall elections
discourage risk-taking and good leadership?
so many replacement candidates, shouldn't a runoff election be required in the
event of a successful recall - so that the new governor has the support of more
than 10 - 20% of the voters?
the replacement candidates have to be more qualified?
your students to imagine that they are television or radio commentators or political
analysts and to prepare 2 - 3 min. political commentaries reflecting their views
on the California recall election. In their analyses, students may either discuss
the election as a whole or urge one or more candidates to pursue a particular
strategy. They may write their commentaries in class or for homework. Students
then share their commentaries in small groups. Each group selects one to be shared
with the entire class. You may wish to evaluate student work as they share orally
or you may collect their written work. Finally, students are encouraged to submit
their commentaries to school or local radio stations or newspapers.
Direct Democracy in Your State
Eighteen states have recall provisions. Many have provisions to allow for
ballot initiatives or referendums. Students find out about the opportunities for
direct democracy in their states. Does your state allow for recall? If so, does
the target of the recall need to be guilty of some wrongdoing? What are the laws?
Have there been any recall attempts or recall elections in your state's history?
Does your state allow for referendums or ballot initiatives? If so, what is the
process for getting a question on the ballot? How often do questions appear on
the ballot and for what purposes? You may conclude by having students analyze
the opportunities for direct democracy in their state and compare to similar laws
and their uses in California.
and the Law
Students research more about the pros and cons of recall
elections by looking at the legal challenges that have been and are being made
to the California recall elections as well as the comments of elected officials
and political analysts nationwide. Students list pros and cons while examining
the legal and political arguments being made on each side. Finally, students make
their own judgments about the wisdom of having a gubernatorial recall election.
Is the California recall likely to have long-term positive or negative effects
Council for the Social Studies Thematic
Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
Civic Ideals and Practices
Lara Maupin taught social studies at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science
and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia. She has a Masterís Degree in Secondary
Social Studies Education from George Washington University and a Bachelorís Degree
in Anthropology and Philosophy from Mount Holyoke College.
find out more about opportunities to contribute to this site, contact Leah Clapman