Elections FAQ 5

Must citizens petitioning for the recall of a local official show cause for why the official should be recalled?

No. Wisconsin used to require “cause” for a recall petition. However, that is not the current legal standard.

There are numerous formalities set forth in the statutes regarding the preparation and form of a recall petition. An important requirement is that the petition state the reason for the recall. The reason must be “related to the official responsibilities of the official for whom removal is sought.” Sec. 9.10(2)(b).

The term “official responsibilities” is not defined in the statutes and no court has yet interpreted what constitutes “official responsibilities.” According to one lawmaker (David Deininger) who was instrumental in having this language added to the statute in 1990, as reported in the Legal Comment published in the November 1990 issue of Wisconsin School News, the use of the term “official responsibilities” was intended to protect local officials from recall for “personal, family or discriminatory reasons.”

Notably, prior to 1990, purely political reasons would not be sufficient for recall. However, under current law, a recall petition may merely state differences of political opinion as the reason for the recall.