A closer look at Tennessee’s recall laws

Tennessee statutes allow recalls in any “governmental entity having a charter provision for a petition for recall.” This delegates the decision about recalls of local officials to each municipality. If a local government’s charter allows for such recalls, then state law establishes the signature requirements and filing deadlines for conducting them. This also applies to school board members. Tennessee law says, “Any member of the board of education of the city elected or appointed…may be removed from office by the registered voters of the city.”

Tennessee also allows any county with a metropolitan form of government and more than 100,000 residents to establish its own recall procedures in its charter. One example of this is in Nashville, which has a population of 715,884, according to 2020 census data. In 1963, the governments of the city of Nashville and Davidson County merged to form the Nashville-Davidson Metro Government.

Here are three differences between Tennessee’s laws and Nashville’s charter regarding recalls:

  1. Nashville allows for the recall of any elected municipal official except during the first and last 180 days of their terms. Tennessee law prohibits recalls during the first and last 90 days of an official’s term.
  2. Nashville requires that petitioners collect signatures within 30 days of filing a notice of intention to collect signatures for a recall. Tennessee law gives petitioners 75 days to collect the required number of signatures.
  3. For recalls of school board members or city council officials elected from a district or subdivision of a city, Nashville requires that petitioners collect signatures from more than 15% of registered voters of the district from which the officer was elected. Tennessee law requires signatures from 66% of the total vote at the last regular election for that office. Both Nashville and Tennessee require petitioners to gather signatures from more than 15% of registered voters for officials elected citywide.

Ballotpedia has tracked 13 recall campaigns in Tennessee since 2009, with four of them in Nashville. Petitioners did not submit signatures for three Nashville recall efforts—one in 2012 and two efforts in 2020. In 2009, voters recalled Councilwoman Pam Murray, 542 votes to 540.

Four other states—Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire—allow local jurisdictions to set policies for the recall of municipal and school board officials.

In 2020, Ballotpedia tracked recall efforts against nine elected officials in Tennessee. California had the most officials targeted for recall—41.

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