LEGAL BRIEFING - Mad at Congress? Law bans recals, but you can vote


Dear John,

I am so blasted mad at Congress. That argument over the debt ceiling and the downgrade of America's credit rating is a disgrace.

When so many people are out of work, I think the focus should be on working together to create jobs, not partisan bickering.

I have heard that Wisconsin is trying to hold recall elections. Can we do that in Washington? How do we do that?


Vexed Voter Val

Dear Val,

I understand the frustration you feel toward Congress. I have it too. One recent poll number I came across said that congressional approval is around 14 percent.

With numbers that low, it is understandable to want new faces in Washington, D.C., to represent us.

The recall of elected officials is permitted by Article 1 sections 33 and 34 of the State Constitution. In order to go through, a petition must allege that the elected official "committed some act or acts of malfeasance or misfeasance while in office, or who has violated his oath of office."

Malfeasance is a wrongdoing or misconduct. The petition must state specifically what those acts are.

The petition must be signed by 25 percent or 35 percent of qualified electors, depending on the position held by the person being recalled.

The exact number of signatures required is based upon the number of electors.

However, the citizens of a state do not have the power to recall their federal representatives.

This limitation on state power was debated at the time the Constitution was being drafted. It was decided that the primary allegiance of these representatives was to the United States as a whole and not to the states. Article I of the Constitution is the sole authority to establish eligibility of federal representatives.

This same logic was used in the 1990s when many states attempted to enact term limitations for members of Congress. The Supreme Court struck down a term limit provision in the Arkansas Constitution.

So, if you are upset with your Congressional delegate, I suggest you act accordingly when that person is up for re-election.



John Hartzell is a practicing Walla Walla attorney. No attorney-client relationship is established via this column, which is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Any information given is to illustrate basic legal concepts and does not state how any court would decide any matter. Have question? Ask John at


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