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Reading the recall tea leaves

Previous elections don't help much in predicting recall's fate at the ballot

The organizers of an effort to recall two members of the Forest Grove School Board now claim to be in possession of more than the 1,616 signatures they need to get the question on the ballot. But their fight isn't over.

First, county elections officials must determine if the signatures they've collected belong to voters registered within the district boundaries.

If enough valid signatures are present, the question could go to voters sometime this fall, possibly sharing the ballot with the primary election for Oregon's first congressional district in November.

If that happens, what are the chances that voters will back the recall?

It's hard to say.

Voters tend to support incumbents on the ballot, but Kate Grandusky, the insurgent school board member elected in May, won in four of the 17 voter precincts that make up the district boundaries. Incumbent board member Ralph Brown won only two precincts. We asked Jim Moore, of Pacific University, to analyze the recall. Here's what he had to say.

Q: If election officials approve the 1,616 signatures organizers need for a recall, do they have a chance of throwing Anna Tavera-Weller and Terry Howell off the board?

A: There is a chance. The key is educating the electorate in the campaign.

Q: Do the actions of the targeted officeholders still seem as egregious months later? Are there other issues that have come up (e.g. in some districts, recall efforts are led by those who want to end public education) during which the recall targets have been especially useful?

A: It is a big hurdle to get the signatures. But it is an even bigger hurdle to get more than 50 percent of the electorate to throw out incumbents. Message is everything. And the recall targets will also mount campaigns about why they should keep their jobs.

Q: If the election winds up on the same ballot as the Special CD1 primary, does that hurt or help the recall effort?

A: Unknown. The electorate will be different because of the primary. All sorts of scenarios could play out, but they are impossible to figure out right now.

In Oregon, recalls are most effective in very small electorates where information can quickly spread. The Forest Grove School District is not one of these very small electorates.

Recalls are also successful in government entities with a history of recall votes. This applies to many places in eastern and southern Oregon. It does not apply to the Forest Grove School District.

So, on the face of it, the recall campaign has an uphill battle. Once again, the key is message. The 2012 elections look to have a strong anti-incumbent theme (just as 2006, 2008, and 2010 did - the last two because of economic uncertainty, the first because of frustration over the U.S. in Iraq). If the recall campaign can tap into that, it will have a better chance of success. If the incumbents can make the case that they were making hard decisions in a time of economic turmoil, they will survive the election.