Pandemic restrictions fuel recall efforts on fall ballots

Pandemic Recall

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Hospitals in Missouri were inundated with COVID-19 patients last summer when a group opposed to a mask mandate that had already expired gathered enough signatures to trigger a recall vote against the mayor who enacted it.

Now the question about Mayor Brian Steele is on the ballot Tuesday in the small city of Nixa. Meanwhile in Kansas, voters will decide whether to recall a school board member who backed a mask mandate. And in Anchorage, Alaska, a member of the city's governing body has been targeted for removal because, according to critics, she was the 15th person at a public meeting where 14 was the limit under COVID-19 protocols.

Across the country, dozens of recall campaigns are underway, many led by people who oppose any COVID-19-related rules. The recalls illustrate the contentiousness that has upended usually sleepy school board and city council meetings. The tension is almost sure to last into 2022, when more recall efforts are expected in the spring.

Nationally, more than 500 attempts to recall elected officials have happened this year, up from about 400 in a typical year, said Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute at Wagner College. He said most of the increase stems from a spike in school board recalls, with about 200 this year, up from 70 in a normal year.

In some cases, multiple members of the same board have been targeted, often over mask requirements or school closures.

But he said fewer recall attempts are advancing to the ballot and more are failing to get enough votes. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who came under fire because of pandemic closures, is the best known elected official to survive a recall this year. But there have been others, including a failed bid last spring to oust several members of two Idaho districts over masks and virtual instruction.

While the pandemic helped motivate people to sign petitions and get recalls on the ballot, "it is not necessarily enough to get the per