Proposition E - Recall Signatures

Voter Guide
This measure appeared on the November 2008 San Francisco ballot.


What it does

Proposition E is a proposed amendment to the San Francisco City Charter that would require an attempt to recall any elected City official, including the mayor, to meet the signature requirements established by state law.

The state standard for a recall requires advocates to gather the signatures of a percentage of the registered voters in the relevant electoral district. The percentage required varies depending on the number of registered voters in a district. The City standard merely requires the signatures of 10 percent of registered voters in the relevant district — regardless of how many voters are in that district. Under state law, districts with 50,000 to 100,000 registered voters require 15 percent of voters to sign a recall petition, while districts with 10,000 to 50,000 registered voters require signatures from 20 percent of voters on a recall petition. For districts or jurisdictions with greater than 100,000 registered voters, the signatures of 10 percent of registered voters are required.

Considering the number of voters registered in each of San Francisco's 11 Board of Supervisors districts, Prop. E would increase the required number of valid signatures from 10 percent of voters in a district to 15 or 20 percent of registered voters in a supervisorial district, depending on the number of registered voters within each district.

Among San Francisco's 11 supervisorial districts, the number of registered voters ranges from 32,659 to 50,428, with an average of 38,651. The only district with more than 50,000 registered voters is District 8, with 50,957. The next largest district is District 5, with 46,000 registered voters. If Prop. E were to pass, the percentage of voters whose signatures would be needed to force a recall election for a member of the board would double for all districts except District 8, where it would increase by half.

Although Prop. E would change the standard for all recalls of elected officials, this would not change the signature requirement for a recall of the mayor or any other citywide elected official, which would remain at 10 percent of registered voters citywide the California standard for jurisdictions with more than 100,000 registered voters.

Why it is on the ballot

Proposition E is a charter amendment that was placed on the ballot with the support of a majority of the Board of Supervisors. Of the sitting members of the Board of Supervisors, four have been subject to unsuccessful recall attempts.

The current 10 percent requirement dates back to the recall election of Mayor Dianne Feinstein in April 1983. At that time, a successful petition required signatures equal to 10 percent of the votes cast in the previous mayoral election. Feinstein beat the recall handily, spending approximately half a million dollars on the campaign. That November, the voters passed a charter amendment requiring that 10 percent of the total number of registered voters citywide sign a recall petition to hold an election. When the measure establishing district elections for supervisors was passed in 1996, the recall requirement of 10 percent of registered voters was extended to each district.


Arguments in favor of Prop. E:

  • Applying a state standard for recalls is appropriate. Many populous chartered counties in California, including Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego follow the state standard.
  • Increasing the number of signatures required is a deterrent against frivolous campaigns to recall an elected city official.
  • This measure could decrease the number of attempts to recall elected city officials. A campaign to fight a recall is costly and time consuming, even if those seeking the recall ultimately fail in garnering sufficient signatures.
  • This measure does not eliminate the ability to remove an elected official, including a supervisor who is guilty of malfeasance, as it is likely that the signature requirement of 15 or 20 percent would not pose a barrier to holding a recall.
  • Over time, as the city's population increases, many districts will reach the threshold of 50,000 registered voters. As this happens, the percentage of registered voters needed to sign a recall petition will be only 15 percent. Therefore, the increase from the current level of 10 percent for these districts would be a moderate one.


Arguments against Prop. E:

  • Over the past 40 years, no elected official has been recalled. The four most recent recall petitions aimed at members of the Board of Supervisors failed to reach the ballot due to an insufficient number of signatures. This measure is not needed, as the 10 percent requirement appears to pose an effective limit on recall efforts.
  • The current level of 10 percent is a "check and balance" on supervisors. If the threshold were increased to 20 percent, supervisors might feel immune from the possibility of a recall.

SPUR’s analysis

By increasing the number of signatures required to recall an elected city official, Prop. E might reduce the likelihood that City officials would be recalled. We think such a change is desirable. While the current 10 percent requirement may offer a "check and balance" on elected officials, recall elections should be held only in instances where the elected official is guilty of nonfeasance, misfeasance and malfeasance. Raising the threshold to the state standard is appropriate for San Francisco.

SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Prop. E.