NEW ORLEANS -- Motivated by recent failures to recall Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni and former St. Tammany Parish Coroner Peter Galvan, a lawmaker says he’s filing a bill Thursday to reduce the threshold for petition signatures that must be collected to get a recall election on the ballot.
State Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Covington, said he believes both houses of the Legislature will support his proposal when the session starts April 10 and will support the need to ease requirements under the state’s recall law, which he called the most onerous in the country.
“I look at Louisiana compared to all the other states that allow for recalls and Louisiana's threshold is by far the highest requirement and I certainly don't want it to be the lowest and likewise I don't want it to be easy, I just want it to be possible.”
Under current law, Louisiana districts with more than 1,000 electors need signatures from a third of all registered voters to trigger a recall election. Hollis wants to keep that in place for smaller districts, but lower the threshold to 25 percent of electors in districts with more than 25,000 voters and down to 20 percent of those registered in districts with more than 100,000 voters.
He noted that a number of signatures equal to just 12 percent of the total votes cast in the previous election are needed in California, where voters successfully removed Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
By contrast, large Louisiana districts like Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes must collect signatures from a third of voters registered there. That equals about 91,000 in Jefferson Parish, meaning that just to trigger a recall election for Yenni, around 4,000 more registered voters needed to sign their names to a public petition than actually cast secret ballots in the election Yenni won in 2015.
Nobody has ever met the threshold for recall in a district larger than 25,000 voters in Louisiana, Hollis said.
“I think people need to have real-time accountability and I think that’s why recalls are so important,” Hollis said.
He said he would prefer to change Louisiana’s threshold so it’s based on the number of votes cast, but feared that might be too complicated. Hollis is also considering filing an amendment to his own bill during next month’s session to lower the threshold to 15 percent for districts with more than 250,000 voters, which would affect only statewide offices and those in Louisiana’s largest cities and parishes. For example, that would make a recall in Jefferson Parish, which has 270,000 registered voters, even easier. But Hollis said he didn’t want to risk losing support from his colleagues.
Even without a 15-percent threshold for the largest districts, Hollis’ bill would have been a game-changer for the Recall Yenni campaign. It pulled up stakes earlier this month after collecting about 55,000 signatures, according to campaign founder and financier Robert Evans III. If Hollis’ bill were to pass, any future recall effort would only need 54,000 signatures to meet the 20-percent threshold.
But if there is a new effort to force a recall election on Yenni, it would have to start over with a new petition and anyone who signed the previous one would have to sign again. Evans said he would welcome such an effort, but after spending more than $120,000 of his law firm’s money on the unsuccessful bid, he wouldn’t take on a leading role.
“Somebody can file under the new law and obtain the signatures, and we can work with them because we know the formula now on how to get those signatures,” Evans said.
It’s no given that a new recall effort would be able to duplicate the accomplishments of the first, however. After WWL-TV’s report in September exposed Yenni’s sexts with a 17-year-old boy and an FBI inquiry into the matter, Recall Yenni collected about 30,000 signatures in the first month. But it couldn’t match that amount over the next five months combined.
Yenni admitted sending improper texts but insisted that he can keep doing his job and said the recall effort had no impact on his work.
After the recall effort against Galvan failed in 2013, the longtime St. Tammany coroner was forced out of office when he was charged and convicted of theft and corruption. Yenni has not been charged with any crime.