When there is a vacancy in a House or Senate seat, a special election is often called for voters to have an opportunity to cast ballots and fill the vacancy. Definitionally, these elections occur at a date other than the prescribed date in November of the appropriate year. Not all Senate vacancies are filled with an immediate special election. In some states, the Governor appoints someone to fill the vacancy in the interim, as happened with Sen. Tina Smith’s appointment in Minnesota following Sen. Franken’s resignation. In this case, Tina Smith will be running for election in 2018, leaving Minnesota in the odd place of having two simultaneous Senate election campaigns.
Once a House member resigns, a special election is called for some date in the future and a campaign begins. While the Representative is gone, the office still exists to represent citizens of the district. For example, Jason Chaffetz resigned as the Representative for Utah’s 3rd District on June 30, 2017, but an election was not held until November 7th with Representative John Curtis assuming the office several days later. No member of Congress was present for floor voters or political statements, but for over four months, staff from the Office of the Utah 3rd Congressional District existed to help constituents with casework needs. During this period, we attempted to arrange meetings for one or two clients, but the office would not take Lobby Day meetings with advocates because they could not speak to any political position. This is standard protocol, but it never hurts to ask if you could still provide information.
House vacancies are never filled with a temporary interim appointment, which can result in some lengthy gaps between officeholders. Rep. John Conyers resigned on December 5th, 2017, but the election for his replacement will not be until November 2018, leaving voters in the Michigan 13th without a Member of Congress for a long time.
- By Jared Payne