By Jane Mulholland and Ruth Kistler
On December 12, Jane Mulholland and Ruth Kistler interviewed the Lincoln County Clerk, Amy Southwell. We asked questions suggested by the LWVOR Recall study committee. Here are those questions and Amy's responses.
Q: What is your role and your experience with recall elections? Over what period(s) of time and where?
A: The County Clerk’s office is the filing office for Lincoln County unless it is a state recall, in which case it goes th(r)ough the Secretary of State’s office. (Southwell) Worked with (the) previous Clerk for 10 years as Chief Deputy; during that time, they had a few recalls that went to a special election for voters to decide the outcome.
(Southwell) Has been in this position since January 2023. Since being the Clerk, (she) has started only one recall process, which didn’t go anywhere due to the petitioner not getting enough signatures by the deadline. Has had calls about 2 other potential recalls that never happened.
Q: Have you noticed any trends?
A: No, but feel voters are more interested in what’s going on in their local elections now than in the past. Every election is important to people at the local level. Have seen an increase in recalls in the last 4-5 years. Since 2020, it seems people are more suspicious about the integrity of the election process. We welcome people to come and observe. We have created an observation area with cameras and microphones so observers can watch and hear what’s going on. Would like to see more people get involved in the election process.
Q: What kinds of recall costs might be involved for public agencies, and how are those costs covered? Have you had budgetary issues as a result of having to conduct a recall election? Are election-related costs clear to recall proponents? Also, what kinds of costs do proponents and opponents typically bear?
A: Recall elections are paid for by the district or city if it goes to a vote to recall. Any candidates that are re-called have a certain amount of time to resign and if they do not, it goes to the people for a special recall election. It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort for the County Clerk to start the recall process and to do all the associated paperwork and communication with the state. The Clerk’s office does not charge a fee for filing a recall petition, nor do they get any reimbursement for their services in getting all appropriate paperwork ready for the petitioner. If a recall goes nowhere (the number of signatures not reached by the deadline) this can be a waste of taxpayer funds and resources, as well as the Clerk’s time. If the recall does go to a special recall election, all the costs associated with the election are passed on to the district.
Q: What have you observed or experienced as the benefits, limitations, and challenges of the recall process in Oregon?
A: Benefits: Recalls are a great way for voters to express their rights as a voter if they believe things are not being done correctly or fairly. It’s a good process if it’s focused on facts; always encourage people to get involved if they are passionate about something.
✓ Recalls are somethings focused on emotions and facts become skewed
✓ Workload impact on the County Clerk’s office can be considerable; i.e., verifying signatures on the petitions and all associated paperwork
✓ Financial impact on small districts when the recall effort goes all the way to a special recall election
Q: How do public agencies, proponents, opponents, and targeted officials get the word out about a recall effort or election?
A: The County Clerk’s office is non-partisan. Its role is to handle all the logistics connected with the recall process. There is no vetting of the issue or verification of “facts” as identified by the petitioner. The County Clerk’s office takes whatever the petitioner says, puts it in the paper to let people know about the election. Arguments for/against are prepared and paid for by the petitioner.
Q: Are you familiar with recall practices in other states, and do see any good models or useful features out there when it comes to recall election procedures?
A: Not familiar with any other states’ recall election procedures.
Q: The League of Women Voters of Oregon is a nonpartisan organization committed to fair, accessible elections. What would you suggest we pay attention to when it comes to recall elections to support fair processes and engaged, informed, and empowered voters?
A: Especially in smaller districts, there may be angry people and the issues can be clouded if people are not sticking to the facts. People may not be clear on the facts when they sign petitions. Knowing the facts is key to informing voters. It is easy for people to take sides, so knowing the facts of the recall is very important in a fair and accurate election, including a recall election.