In Oklahoma, local officials can be recalled, but Gov. Stitt cannot

Carmen Forman
The Oklahoman
Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks about PPE assistance for Oklahoma schools to conduct in-person instruction during a press conference at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City on Thursday. Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman

Some Oklahomans frustrated with Gov. Kevin Stitt’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic have proposed recalling the state’s Republican governor.

But in Oklahoma, that’s not an option.

Across the country, 19 states and Washington, D.C., allow for recalls of state officials. Oklahoma is not one of them.

Stitt's most vocal critics, who often profess their outrage on Twitter and in the comments sections of Facebook posts, will have to wait until the next election cycle to act on their dissatisfaction.

However, the Sooner State is one of 38 states that allow for the recall of local elected officials, and the state has seen a growing number of recall attempts as the pandemic continues.

“Oklahoma has seen kind of an explosion of recalls over the coronavirus pandemic,” said Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College in New York.

Spivak, who runs a blog chronicling recall attempts across the country, said Oklahoma may have more pandemic-related recalls than any other state.

In Norman, several city council members were the target of recall petitions. An Enid city commissioner, who has supported more stringent pandemic protocols, faces a recall. And recall efforts are underway in Stillwater and McAlester.

So far, only the recall election for Enid Commissioner Ben Ezzell has qualified for the ballot.

Some Oklahoma tribal officials also faced recall attempts, in part due to their handling of coronavirus stimulus funds.

Laws allowing for the recall of statewide elected officials began to emerge in western states in the early 1900s and over time, spread to the Midwest. Those states didn’t have the same power structures as older East Coast states, like New York, Massachusetts and Maryland, Spivak said.

Once formed, California, saw certain political interest groups take near total domination of the state and direct democracy was seen as the only option to shake up things up, Spivak said. At that time, the Southern Pacific Railroad had a stranglehold on both political parties and was seen as the catalyst for Los Angeles, then California, adopting recall provisions.

“The way power operated in those states was such that the dynamic felt the only way to get them out was with new machinery that improved democracy, rather than electing a different party, which was also controlled by the railroad,” Spivak said.

Recall elections have become more popular in recent years because social media and technology have made it easier for citizens to organize recall campaigns, he said.

National politics are also infiltrating state and local politics to a greater degree than ever before, Spivak said, pointing to the politics surrounding the pandemic.

In the past, city councilors may have only been asked about local funding and zoning issues. Now, they’re being asked about social unrest, business closures and mask mandates.

“Today, everything is fair game, and the result is a much more active electorate that’s looking to kick you out,” Spivak said.

Most of the pandemic-related recalls are coming from a more conservative electorate that is upset with mask mandates or business closures intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19, he said.

For recall campaigns, getting on the ballot is the most difficult part.

Most fail to get enough signatures or are abandoned, but for those that get on the ballot, more than 60% typically result in the removal of an elected official, Spivak said.