Court Cases; Connecticut laws/regulations;

OLR Research Report

January 18, 2002





By: Mary M. Janicki, Assistant Director

Kristina Arsenault, Legislative Fellow

You asked which other states permit recall of municipal officials and for a description of their processes. You also want a summary of the relevant provisions in the special acts that authorize recall in five Connecticut towns. Finally, you asked whether any of these towns has exercised the power in the recent past.


Recall is the procedure by which elected officials can be subject to removal from office during their term by a vote of the people at an election called by a specified number of voters for this purpose.

Elected municipal officials in 36 states are subject to recall; voters can recall state officials and judges in 16 states. At a minimum, the constitutional or statutory provisions establishing recall ought to address those offices subject to recall, the number of signatures required for a valid recall petition, the procedures for circulating and certifying a petition, and whether a successful petition results in a referendum (“Shall the person be recalled?”) or an immediate election to fill the position at which the subject of the recall may or may not be a candidate. Some provisions include additional details on the procedures to follow, such as the period during the term when recall is not allowed, the length of time a petition sponsor can circulate the petition, whether the reason for recall must be specified, and when the election must take place.

Though some town charters include recall provisions, the Connecticut Supreme Court has upheld as constitutional only those five where recall was established by a special act prior to enactment of home rule (Bristol, Milford, New Haven, Stratford, and Westport). Recall provisions in the five Connecticut towns differ. An official subject to recall may run in a recall election against other candidates (Bristol). Alternatively, the town may conduct a referendum to remove the official and, if approved, follow procedures established to fill a vacancy (Milford and Westport). Stratford combines the two by asking the question, then listing the names of other candidates to replace the subject of the recall. The details of New Haven's procedures are not included in the special act.

We know of no successful recall attempts in these towns, though there have been a few recall campaigns. A single attempt each in New Haven and Stratford over 20 years ago failed. In two other cases, petitioners sought to recall officials who were not subject to the provision (members of a board of education and a housing authority).


In the early 1900's, recall was adopted most frequently in the western United States as part of a reform movement along with referendum and initiative. Sixteen states permit recall of state officials (see Table 1). Home rule provisions in an additional 20 states give citizens authority to recall municipal officials (Thomas Cronin, Direct Democracy: The Politics of Initiative, Referendum and Recall, 1989; and National Conference of State Legislatures, “Recall of State Officials,” 1994). The most frequent occasion for a successful recall is at the municipal level where voters have recalled approximately 2,000 mayors, council members, and other local officials since the Progressive Era, according to a 1997 law review article (“The Peculiar Geography of Direct Democracy: Why the Initiative, Referendum and Recall Developed in the American West,” Michigan Law and Policy Review, 2 Mich.L.&Pol'y Rev. 11).

Table 1: States With Recall for State Officials and Year Enacted

Alaska (1959)

Kansas (1914)

North Dakota (1920)

Arizona (1912)

Louisiana (1913)

Oregon (1908)

California (1911)

Michigan (1908)

Washington (1912)

Colorado (1912)

Montana (1976)

Wisconsin (1926)

Georgia (1976)

Nevada (1912)


Idaho (1912)

New Jersey (1993)


Recall Provisions

States with recall provisions include the following, though not all jurisdictions address all of these issues:

● The officials to whom recall applies

● The number of times recall can be attempted

● The period of time required between recall attempts

● The length of time an official must have been in office before recall can be initiated

● The length of term remaining after which recall may not be initiated

● The minimum number of signatures required on a recall petition as a specified percentage of (1) the number of voters who cast a ballot for a particular office or the entire vote cast in the previous election or (2) the total number of registered voters in the jurisdiction

● The maximum time allowed for petition circulation

● The maximum time allowed for certifying the petition signatures

● The grounds for recall, if any

● Judicial review of the grounds asserted for recall as to legal sufficiency

● Requirement for filing a notice of intent or application for a recall petition

● The contents and form of the recall petition

● The period during which a recall election must be held after a valid petition is filed.

Details of the procedures in other states appear in the table “State Recall Provisions: Applicability to State Officials and Petitition Circulation” from The Council of State Governments' The Book of the States 2000-2001 (copy attached).


The state Supreme Court has ruled that, because the General Assembly has not enacted legislation explicitly conferring the power to recall elected officials and the authority is not implied in other powers, towns cannot enact recall provisions by charter or ordinance (Simons v. Canty, 195 Conn. 524 (1985)). The only Connecticut towns that have authority to recall local officials are the five that were granted the authority by special act before the enactment of the constitution's home rule provision. Table 2 lists the towns, the legal authority, and the date it was adopted in each.

Table 2: Connecticut Towns With Recall Authority


Special Act

Date of Adoption


23 Spec. Acts 489, No. 489



29 Spec. Acts 142, No. 139


New Haven

16 Spec. Acts 817, No. 159



18 Spec. Acts 1048, No. 479



28 Spec. Acts 427, No. 383



Section 13 of the Bristol special act spells out the procedures for recalling an elected official there. A petition, signed by at least 20% of the number of votes cast for the office of mayor at the last election, calling for election of a successor to the official they seek to remove must be presented to the town clerk. The petition must include the reason for removal. The official has five days to resign after the petition is filed. If he does not, the town council calls for a recall election to be held within 30 days. In the call for the election, the reason for the recall and the official's rebuttal (each no more than 200 words) are published.

In the recall election, the official appears on the ballot along with other candidates nominated according to existing procedures. If the official sought to be recalled does not win the election, he is removed from office. There can be no recall election until an official has held office for at least four months or within 90 days before a municipal election. The special act bars anyone who was the subject of a recall from appointment to a municipal office within two years of his recall or resignation.


Under the Milford special act (Section 6), an affidavit must be filed with the town clerk containing the grounds for recall, along with a petition signed by 10% of the town's electors. Within 30 days, a referendum is held for voters to answer “Yes” or “No” to the question “Shall X be recalled?” At least 25% of the registered voters in the town (or district) must vote and if a majority of them vote to approve the recall, the official must vacate the office. When the official is recalled (or resigns), the vacancy is filled in accordance with provisions in the special act charter.

New Haven

The New Haven act gives the city the power “to provide for the removal of any officer or employee of said city” (Section 2).


Members of the town council are subject to recall in Stratford (Sections 2 and 17-20). A voter in the official's district can file an affidavit with the town clerk naming the council member and stating the grounds for removal. The clerk gives the voter a petition form and the voter has 30 days to collect signatures equal to at least 15% of the registered voters in the district entitled to vote at the last municipal election. The clerk has 10 days to certify the petition signatures and if there are insufficient signatures, the sponsors have 10 days to circulate and file a supplementary petition with additional signatures. If the petition is sufficient, the clerk submits it to the council at its next meeting and the council has 10 days to order an election (unless the subject of the recall petition resigns).

The election must be held between 30 and 45 days later (unless a regular election is scheduled within 60 days, in which case the recall election can be held then). The ballot presents the question: “Shall X be recalled?” and also lists the names of the candidates for election to fill the position “for the place of X, if recalled.” The subject of the recall cannot be a candidate. If the council fails to order an election, a court may do so.


In Westport, the recall provision (Section 8) applies to any elected official. Any voter can file with the town clerk a petition addressed to the selectmen demanding the recall of a named official and stating the grounds. The circulator has 60 days to collect the signatures of at least 15% of the town's registered voters. The clerk certifies the petition and submits it to the selectmen. The selectmen have between seven and 14 days from the filing date to order a recall election, which must be held between 10 and 20 days later. Voters vote for or against removal. If a majority votes in favor of removal, the office is declared vacant. A recall election is not permitted within the first six months or the last six months of the person's term or within one year of a prior attempt.


Prior to the Supreme Court case, there were a few recall attempts in towns with recall provisions in their charters. (There are 19 of these and OLR report 85-R-0676, attached, lists the recall requirements for each.) In the five towns with recall authority established by special act, there have been only a couple of recall attempts that we know of. One was an unsuccessful campaign against the mayor or New Haven in 1976. In a 1971 attempt to recall a board of education official in Westport, the Superior Court ruled that recall could not be applied to boards of education since they are agents of the state (Sherman v. Kemish, 29 Conn. Supp. 198).

Town clerks in Bristol, New Haven, Milford, and Westport tell us that there have been no attempts in the past 10 years. In Stratford, there was a recall attempt in the late 1980's that failed. In a 1999 Superior Court case, the judge resolved a question in Milford as to whether a non-elected housing authority commissioner could be recalled by ruling that the General Statutes regarding housing authority members supersede the municipality's recall provisions that applied only to elected officials (Jepson v. Scott, et al., CV-98-0064394-S, Notice issued 1/20/99).