What happened to Recall Dunleavy

Just months ago the Recall Dunleavy campaign had serious momentum. In February they had a victory at the Superior Court that allowed them to begin gathering signatures for the second phase of the process. They began a statewide effort to collect signatures that included renting out the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage. In March a New Yorker article came out titled “Why Alaskans are trying to recall their governor.” On March 20 they announced they had collected over 30,000 of the 71,252 signatures required for a recall election. It seemed all but inevitable Alaska’s first ever statewide recall election was going to happen. Then COVID-19 happened.

As Alaska began to close down businesses and Alaskans all over the state hunkered down, the Recall Dunleavy campaign was dealt a death blow. All of a sudden gathering signatures became nearly impossible. Having signature gatherers posted outside businesses and at public places throughout Alaska ended when social distancing became the new normal.

The Recall Dunleavy campaign came up with a new strategy – have people request a signature sheet, send it to them in the mail, and then have them mail it back. A smart idea but clearly not an efficient way to collect tens of thousands of signatures. The Recall Dunleavy campaign said it had received over 4,000 signature requests by mid-April, a month after they started offering that option. Assuming that pace continued – and everyone who requested a signature sheet signed and returned it, and is an eligible voter – at that pace they would not get the additional 40,000 signatures until next year.

Recall Dunleavy Campaign Manager Claire Pywell provided the following comment for this story:

At this point, we’re no stranger to a moving target – from a wrongful delay in court to a global pandemic, it’s clear that we’re not deterred by a slow down or unforeseen challenges. It’s a false premise that the timing of our election determines if we win. Our arguments for recall are undeniable, regardless of any timing scenario, whether that’s a general or special election. We’ll take our case to the people and we’ll make it, whenever that election is scheduled. Bottom line: he hasn’t listened, he hasn’t learned, and we deserve better. We’re charging ahead with collecting another 40,000 signatures. We’re all in.

Clever and optimistic wording but the reality is COVID-19 has seriously impacted their effort. If COVID-19 would not have happened the Recall Dunleavy people may very well have collected and turned in the required signatures by now.

Alaska statutes say once a recall petition is certified an election shall be held between 60 and 90 days from the date it was submitted. If those dates happen to fall during a primary or general election, then the recall question would go on one of those ballots. If not a special election would be called. Assuming they could get the signatures by mid-June – which is unlikely at this point – it could fall on the August 18 primary.

Where it gets tricky is if they were somehow able to get the signatures by fall. Recall Dunleavy surely doesn’t want the recall question to be on the general ballot. It’s a presidential election, Senator Dan Sullivan (R – Alaska) is up for re-election, and there will be a ton of ballot measures on that ballot. Turnout will be high and Republicans will be motivated to show up. So what does this mean? If they were to get the signatures by fall they could turn them in sometime in October, avoiding the recall question appearing on the general election ballot. But December is not a good month for an election. They would probably wait until November or December, which would trigger a special election early next year. The good news for them is there is no time frame. They can turn in the signatures whenever they want.

Unless social distancing mandates change, they will have a difficult time obtaining the required signatures by fall. It could easily be next year until they collect enough signatures. By then there will be a new legislature and a host of new fiscal issues to deal with. As oil prices plummet the deficit keeps growing. Next session will be very loose. Will the public want to deal with a recall election then?

The Supreme Court has heard oral arguments in the matter. They will probably rule sometime in May. While they may decide to throw out one of the reasons for the recall it’s extremely unlikely they will dismiss it. This announcement will give Recall Dunleavy some press and a bump but that’s about it.

The other big factor is how the COVID situation has helped Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska). His daily briefings have been popular, in large part due to Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink. Most Alaskans would say Dunleavy has handled this situation well. The question is has he handled it well enough to change the minds of people who were motivated to sign the recall petition? Probably some but there are surely still enough for Recall Dunleavy to get their signatures. Then the question is will Alaskans vote to recall Dunleavy if given the chance? That’s the million dollar question.

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