States' Peculiar Ways of Filling Legislative Vacancies

As Alan noted yesterday, legislative special elections are a helpful (if imperfect) way to judge which direction the political winds are blowing. One reason they'...
by | August 6, 2009
 

As Alan noted yesterday, legislative special elections are a helpful (if imperfect) way to judge which direction the political winds are blowing. One reason they're imperfect, though, is that not all states have them.

I was quite surprised to discover only a bare majority of states, 26 of them, generally use special elections to fill state legislative vacancies (the alternative is an appointment process, which typically requires that the seat stay in the same party's hands). I discovered that in the process of reporting a story about how the appointment process in Colorado, combined with other factors, has created a wave of early retirements.

The prevalence of appointments was striking to me in the context of the debate this year over how U.S. Senate vacancies should be filled. For legislative vacancies, Western states are especially likely to use appointments rather than special elections.

The National Conference of State Legislatures was kind enough to send me a chart that describes each state's special elections procedures, which I've tweaked into a simpler version below. There are lots of strange variations on how legislative vacancies are filled.

For example, in North Dakota political parties pick replacement legislators. However, according to NCSL:

If 828 days or more remain until the expiration of the term of office, The qualified electors of a legislative district in which a vacancy in the legislative assembly occurs may petition for a special election to be called by the governor to fill the vacancy.

I'm not even going to try to describe all of the different appointment processes states use. Suffice it to say, sometimes the appointments are made by other legislators, the governor, county commissions and political parties. Several states use hybrid systems -- for example, a local political party will submit a list of candidates from which the county commission must pick.

Here's very basic list of how each state fills legislative vacancies.

Special elections:

Alabama

Arkansas

California

Connecticut

Delaware

Florida

Georgia

Indiana

Iowa

Kentucky

Louisiana

Maine

Massachusetts

Michigan

Minnesota

Mississippi

Missouri

New Hampshire

New York

Oklahoma

Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

South Carolina

Texas

Virginia

Wisconsin

Usually appointments, but with special elections in certain circumstances:

Montana

Hawaii

Tennessee

Appointments:

Arizona

Nevada

New Mexico

Washington

Wyoming

Alaska

Idaho

Kansas

Maryland

Nebraska

North Carolina

South Dakota

Utah

Vermont

West Virginia

Ohio

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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