I’ve seen several folks on Twitter and Facebook pushing the idea of impeaching Virginia Governor Ralph Northam over his attempt to infringe on the rights of gun owners with a set of gun control bills for the January legislative session. Not be a Danny Downer, but the prospects of that actually happening are slim. Here’s why.
In order to start the recall process, gun owners would have to go through a lengthy nine step process, which the state of Virginia helpfully lays out here.
- Prior to circulating any petition for signature, an individual shall file a copy of the petition with the clerk of the circuit court for the county or city in which the referendum will be held. The individual shall be a qualified voter of the county or city and shall file, with the petition copy, a statement giving his name; residence address and, if different, his mailing address; and the name of the organization, if any, which he represents in circulating the petition. The copy of the petition shall be filed on or after the effective date of the law which authorizes the referendum for which the petition will be circulated. The clerk shall certify, within 10 days of such filing, that he has received and accepted the petition copy and statement.
- If the referendum will be held only in a town, the copy and statement shall be filed with the clerk of the circuit court for the county in which the town, or larger portion of the town, is located, and the individual shall be a qualified voter of the town. If the referendum will be held only in part of a county, city, or town, the copy and statement shall be filed with the clerk of the appropriate circuit court, and the individual shall be a qualified voter of the part of the county, city, or town in which the referendum will be held. If the referendum will be held in more than one county, city, or town, the copy and statement shall be filed with the clerk of the circuit court of any one of the localities in which the referendum will be held, and the individual shall be a qualified voter of that locality.
- Each qualified voter signing a petition shall date his signature.
- Each such voter may provide on the petition the last four digits of his social security number, if any; however, noncompliance with this requirement shall not be cause to invalidate the voter’s signature on the petition.
- Each signature on the petition shall be witnessed by a person who is qualified to vote, or qualified to register to vote, in the referendum for which he is circulating the petition and whose affidavit to that effect, including his name, residence address and, if different, his mailing address, and the name of the organization, if any, that he represents in circulating the petition, appears on each page, front and back, of the petition.
- The petition shall be circulated, completed, and filed with the appropriate court or authority within nine months of the date of the certification by the clerk of the circuit court pursuant to subdivision 1.
- Each qualified voter signing the petition shall have been validly registered in the jurisdiction for which the petition is circulated at the time of signing the petition and at the time of validating the petition signatures.
- The number of voters registered on January 1 of the year of the certification by the clerk of the circuit court pursuant to subdivision 1 shall be the basis for determining the number of signatures required on the petition in all cases in which the law authorizing the referendum provides that the number of signatures required for the petition is a percentage of the number of registered voters.
- If the court or authority finds that the filed petitions are valid and sufficient under law, it shall proceed, as provided by law, to order or call for the referendum election. If the court or authority finds that the filed petitions are invalid for any cause, the petitions and the signatures on them shall be invalid for all purposes. The invalidity of one or more signatures on a petition page shall not be cause to invalidate the entire petition page. If the circulators of the petitions fail to file within the nine-month period provided in subdivision 6, the petitions and the signatures on them shall be invalid for all purposes.
Because this would be a statewide recall election, this process would have to take place in each one of Virginia’s 95 counties, and organizers would have to get enough signatures to match 10% of the total votes in the last election. It’s unclear whether that would have to be done on a county-by-county basis as well, or if the total number of signatures would have to meet that threshold.* Either way, you’re looking at almost 300,000 signatures that would have to be collected before the recall process could proceed.
If all of these bureaucratic barriers are overcome, then gun owners are going to face the biggest challenge of all. Under Virginia statutes, citizens don’t actually take part in the recall vote. It’s left to the state’s circuit courts to decide whether or not the official being recalled has to step down.
I think it’s highly unlikely that the state’s judges would remove Northam from office, especially given that the Supreme Court hasn’t weighed in on the constitutionality of any of his proposed gun control laws. The judges would most likely say that, because the constitutionality of the laws hasn’t been decided by the Court, it’s impossible for them to say that he’s violated his oath of office by signing unconstitutional laws into effect.
No chief executive or holder of statewide office has ever been recalled in Virginia, and I don’t see Ralph Northam being the first. Under Virginia law he can’t run for re-election anyway, and gun owners and Second Amendment supporters would be better served by organizing and planning for the 2021 elections than in pursuing a recall of Virginia’s anti-gun governor.
*A helpful reader noted my mistake here. A petition could be filed in just one location, but the total number of signatures that would have to be gathered is still 10% of the total number of votes cast in the last election.