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Rules for Missouri Fire Protection Districts
IV. Initiative, Referendum and Recall
Parenthetical numbers in the text refer to sections of the current Revised Statutes of Missouri, abbreviated as RSMo.
Initiative and referendum
Voters of the district may act on behalf of the board or reverse any action taken by the board, though they rarely do. The procedures are complicated and require a petition that meets stringent criteria followed by a simple majority vote at district polls. District officials need to be aware of the statutes that give voters this power (321.490–321.500).
A form for initiative or referendum petitions is provided in the statutes (321.495). It begins with a warning that it is a felony to sign someone else’s name, sign more than once or sign without being a registered voter. Then, addressing the board, it says that the persons undersigned order the described measure be referred to the people of the district for approval or rejection and gives the date for the election. The measure that petitioners want adopted or the board-passed measure they want repealed must be attached. Each person signs on a numbered line and gives his or her voting address. Each sheet of signatures must have a sworn oath by the signature gatherer at the bottom, verifying that the persons listed signed the petition in the gatherer’s presence and that the gatherer believes they are all registered voters who reside in the fire district. The form must be notarized.
If verified signatures equal the number of votes cast in the last district election, the issue goes before the voters when specified. A simple majority adopts the proposed measure in an initiative petition or repeals a measure the board had adopted in a referendum petition.
The petition process should be taken seriously. In one known instance, the description of what petitioners proposed was faulty, even though they had paid for legal advice to help prepare the petition, and so the issue never came to the ballot. However, when the signatures were being verified, at least eight names were found that did not match up to district residents or registered voters. The felony warning noted above is a felony election offense. Conviction of such a violation permanently severs a citizen’s voting rights. Had the issue on the petition gone to the ballot, eight persons could have permanently lost their right to vote.
Recall and exemptions
Two versions of the recall law were passed by the same session of the Missouri General Assembly (321.701–321.716). The first version says recall elections are possible in any FPD located anywhere in Missouri. The second version says recall elections are possible only in St. Louis County. How should one reconcile these different versions? It is impossible to discover the intent of the legislature because Missouri does not maintain a verbatim record of what was said on the floor of the legislature, nor do committees prepare formal reports that help indicate intentions. The courts have said when two versions are passed at the same time, it is not possible to go by what was approved most recently by the General Assembly or the governor because all laws go into effect on the same day, Aug. 28th of the year when they pass. So the courts will try to “harmonize” the two versions, but if they cannot, they toss out both versions.
In the original edition of this manual, the author tried to “harmonize” the two laws by assuming that recall was possible anywhere in the state. The current editor points out that we will not know the answer until someone undertakes the expense to litigate the question and the courts rule.
Wherever recall is permitted, any or all of the members of a fire district board are subject to recall and removal from office by district voters. However, several restrictions apply, including those listed below under Who may not be recalled. Although recall is rare, it has been used successfully, so a board should be familiar with the rules that govern it.
Who may not be recalled
Board members are exempt from recall during the first 180 days and the final 180 days of their terms. If a member has been the subject of a recall election during the term and survived, that member is exempt for the rest of that term. This means all board members are subject to being recalled by district voters if they are not in the first half of their first year or the last half of their final year, or unless they have survived a recall vote that term.
Notice of intent
A notice of the intention to circulate a recall petition must be either handed personally to or sent by certified mail to the board member who is the subject of the recall. A copy is filed with the election authority along with a sworn statement that the notice was served on the board member. Each member whose removal is sought must receive a separate notice.
The notice must contain
- The board member’s name
- A statement of the reasons for the proposed recall no longer than 200 words
- Names and addresses of one to five recall proponents
The board member has seven days to file a response with the election authority, and if a response is filed, the board member must send a copy to at least one proponent by certified mail.
Recall petitions include a request for election, a copy of the intention’s complaint and the member’s response or a note that no response was made, and lines for each signer’s signature, printed name and address. Each petition requires a sworn certification from the signature gatherer and must be completed and turned in within 180 days from the date of filing the notice of intent.
The signatures must equal 25 percent of the people who voted for governor within the district in the last general election. The election authority has 20 days to verify signatures. If signatures fall short of the required total, petitioners have 10 days to collect more. If numbers are still insufficient, no action is taken and the petition stays on file with the election authority.
If enough signatures are gathered, a certificate is sent to the fire district board before its next meeting with the board member’s name, the number of signatures required, the total number of signatures on the petition and the number that were valid. Upon proof that the board has received the certificate, the election authority schedules the election for a regular election day (115.123). Up to 42 days before the election, the member can resign and have the question removed from the ballot. The resigned member may not be appointed to the vacancy.
Costs of the recall election are billed to the district. The election must be held no less than 45 days and no more than 120 days after the district board receives the recall petition. Because Missouri Revised Statutes Section 115.123 restricts the days on which elections may be held, determine possible dates for the election as soon as a notice of intent has been filed. A simple majority decides the recall question. One more than half of the total votes cast ousts the member. One vote short of half the total and the board member stays.
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