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By Karen Shanton

Evie HudakColorado state Senator Evie Hudak avoided losing her seat in May, when petitioners suspended the recall campaign they’d launched against her. But she wasn’t as fortunate this fall. Hudak resigned in November in the face of a new recall push, making her the third Colorado Democrat to lose a Senate seat to recall efforts this year.

That number—three—is an important one. Recall election losses by Senators Angela Giron and John Morse in September carved Democrats’ lead in the Colorado Senate from a slim three to a razor-thin one. Had Hudak been recalled, Republicans would likely have taken control of the chamber. By resigning, she instead secured Democrats' hold on the Senate. Under the Colorado Constitution, state lawmakers who resign must be replaced by a representative of the same political party.

It’s worth noting, though, that this strategy wouldn’t have been advisableor possiblein all states. Colorado settles legislative recalls with a single two-part election, in which voters are asked first to vote on a yes-no recall question then to choose from a list of alternative candidates (not including the incumbent), and fills resignation vacancies with same-party appointments.

Other states handle one or both seat-filling scenarios differently. One way states differ is in the extent to which they promote party continuity between departing lawmakers and their successors. Colorado’s recall procedure favors party discontinuity because the recall question and choice of replacement are decided in the same election and the incumbent cannot appear on the list of possible replacements. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Oregon’s recall rules require party continuity. Recall vacancies in the Oregon Legislature must be filled by a member of the same party as the recalled lawmaker.

Another difference is in the method(s) used to select replacement members. Colorado uses elections for legislative recalls and appointments for legislative resignations but other states employ different combinations of methods. For example, Alaska appoints replacements for both recalled and resigning lawmakers while Michigan elects both.

These differences alter the incentive structure in recalls like Hudak’s. Suppose, for example, that that recall had played out in Oregon, where recalled legislators are replaced by members of the same political party. Clearly, there wouldn’t have been the same incentive to resign in that case as there was in Colorado.

Similarly, there would have been less incentive to resign in Michiganthough for a very different reason. Because Michigan selects resignation replacements by special election, resigning wouldn’t ensure party continuity there. Unlike in Colorado, there’s no guarantee that a Michigan lawmaker who resigns will be succeeded by a member of his or her own party.

The upshot, then, is this: Hudak was able to preserve her party’s majority by resigning but that wouldn’t have been an option in some states (and wouldn’t be necessary in others). The incentive to resign depends, in part, on recall and resignation replacement rules and those vary from state to state. Resignation helped Democrats hold their edge in Colorado but it’s not a panacea for all parties facing majority-threatening recalls.

Karen Shanton is a legislative studies specialist and ACLS public fellow at NCSL.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.

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