The recall is one of three direct democracy tools in California. Following the failed 2021 recall attempt against California Governor Gavin Newsom, the state recall process has been criticized for evolving beyond its intended purpose to the point of being overpowered and prone to abuse. After reviewing the recall’s original intent, we conduct a quantitative analysis of state and local recall attempts in California and compare this to other recall states. We conclude that the critique is unjustified. In California and elsewhere, state official recalls are frequently attempted but rarely qualify for the ballot, demonstrating that the existing recall system is an effective filter. We validate the charge that the recall is primarily a tool of out-party interests, but conclude that this is an intended design feature rather than an unanticipated defect. We conclude instead that California’s local recall is the better target for reform efforts, given its comparatively easier qualifying requirements, greater use, and higher success rates. Rather than deviating from its intended purpose, in its 110 years the California state official recall proved to be exactly what its Progressive designers intended: a voter weapon to menace and remove public officials, but one that is difficult to deploy. We frame the recall as less about politics and more about policy: recalls function as public opinion or policy polls and overall tend to validate existing policy. Finally, we conclude that most proposed reforms are solutions seeking a problem, and that California’s recall system merits just a few small procedural changes. The upshot is that the view of California’s recall as a force gone amok is incorrect.

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