Eds: New approach. Updates with comment, detail and background throughout. This week's Capital Focus and a Michigan AP Centerpiece. Also moved Friday in advance.
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan consistently leads the country in the number of elected officials facing recall, but major changes to its recall rules could change that.
Citizens hoping to remove public officials from office must adhere to new requirements under a law signed seven months ago. Though experts are cautious in predicting a drop in recalls at this point — in part because drives targeting new officeholders couldn't start until earlier this month — they won't be surprised if a decline occurs.
Michigan has "taken a lot of bite out of the recall," said Joshua Spivak, a national expert on recalls and a senior fellow at Wagner College in New York.
Key changes include shortening the time to collect recall signatures from 90 to 60 days and giving voters a choice between the officeholder and a challenger, not an up-or-down vote followed by a replacement election later on. Another significant revision is requiring state and county election boards to determine if the reasons for recall are "factual."
Election officials previously looked at "clarity" only.
Spivak said determining factual accuracy isn't easy and guarantees litigation.
"Whenever you have lawsuits involved, you're squeezing out insurgents because you're making them pay more money. Any roadblock in the system is another way to protect incumbents," he said.
Spivak applauded the switch away from up-or-down votes as money saver that ensures seats doesn't stay empty too long.
Some Michigan veterans of recall fights defend the requirement that recall proponents base their petitions on facts, saying it's better than the old, more nebulous standard that was applied differently depending on the county.
John Pirich, a Lansing lawyer who for years has represented public officials targeted for recall, said the reasons given are often vague and ill-defined.