The story of Jersey City Councilwoman Amy DeGise's apparent hit-and-run crash into a bicyclist has been all over the news for a month. There's been an onslaught of calls for her resignation, and yet, her politically powerful allies in Jersey City and Hudson County have been mum.
If she won't resign — and so far, she's saying she won't — those who want her out would have to file a petition to prompt a recall election. And that turns out to be harder in New Jersey than in most places.
Nancy Solomon, who has been tracking the story for WNYC and Gothamist, spoke Friday with Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, who explored for the New Jersey Monitor just what it takes to force an elected official out of office in the Garden State.
The transcript of their discussion below has been lightly edited for clarity.
Nancy Solomon: So far more than 6,000 people have signed an electronic petition demanding DeGise step down. That sounds like a lot of people, but that's not really nearly enough, is it?
Sophie Nieto-Muñoz: No, that's still a fraction of how many people would need to sign a recall petition in order to trigger a recall election. So in Jersey City — where the councilwoman is an at-large member for the entire city, where 170,000 people voted in the 2021 election, you would need about 42,000 signatures in order to trigger a recall election.
That number would be smaller if she only represented a ward. But that still represents 25% of all registered voters in Jersey City.
Solomon: That high threshold is much higher than in most states, you found. And it's not surprising to those of us who know Jersey that it's harder than just about anywhere else in the country to get rid of an elected official, right?
Nieto-Muñoz: So most states actually only have a threshold of 25% of votes cast in the most recent election. New Jersey is 25% of registered voters in the district that the elected official represents (in this case, the entirety of Jersey City). And some states have an even lower threshold than that. In California, I believe, it's 12% of votes cast in the most recent election. And you need signatures from five counties, which is why they have recalls in that state way more often than in any other.
Solomon: And of course it's no accident that New Jersey is so difficult. You talk about the history of this in your piece. Tell us about it.
Nieto-Muñoz: Right. So voters approved this through a ballot question in the mid-1990s, and then it was approved by lawmakers in 1995. So even though we have a high threshold, that doesn't mean that people haven't tried, and succeeded at recall efforts. We've seen about two dozen recall elections since then. The most recent one for example, was in Cedar Grove. A board of education member stepped down after enough people signed a petition for a recall election.
There's also an effort right now underway in Hoboken, where three residents are collecting signatures to recall a councilman. And, you know, when you look at when this has been done successfully, in 2009, you had a Wildwood mayor who was recalled and he was even successfully reelected again, 17 months later. So there's also a question of how effective, really, is this law.
Solomon: And is there any talk of lowering the threshold?
Nieto-Muñoz: So, because it was approved through a ballot question and it's in the state constitution, it would take another ballot referendum in order to change that law. So this isn't something that legislators can just change through the regular legislative process.
And I'm not sure if there is any appetite from lawmakers to even change the law. I mean, they're the ones who are protected by it. And also, any bill that has even been introduced since the 2000s has never even gone up for a hearing. That might be because it needs to go through a ballot question anyway, but, it's not something that we hear lawmakers talking about really at all.
Solomon: Sounds like there won't be too many politicians recalled in New Jersey anytime soon.