The recall election, once reserved for forcing out elected officials accused of a crime, ethics violations, or gross misconduct, has become an overtly political tool, reports the Washington Post. Since 2011, voters in four states have successfully mounted petition drives to recall state legislators over laws curbing influence of public unions, or expanding the reach of background checks on gun purchasers. The number of recalls has spiked dramatically. Of the 32 successful recalls in the U.S. since 1911, 11 have taken place since 2011. Of the 21 recall efforts that succeeded in forcing an official back onto the ballot, but failed at the polls, 13 have taken place in the last two years.
Two factors are driving the splurge of recall signature gathering: Previously parochial politics are taking on a national flavor, and new technology available to activists is lowering the once-high barrier to entry. This year, gun control advocates have spent more than $1 million, and public employee unions have spent hundreds of thousands, defending two Colorado state senators who backed strict new background check laws. Conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity and the National Rifle Association, which drove the recall efforts, have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, mostly through opaque groups under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code.