Monday’s blog post about whether Illinois should start holding special elections for legislative vacancies made Ward Room wonder: how many states actually do that?
The answer: most of them. According to Ballotpedia, 27 states require special elections to fill a vacancy in the legislature. Another 11 states allow the governor to appoint a new legislator. Illinois is one of 11 states in which a board of elected officials chooses a legislator. (New Jersey is a hybrid, holding a special election only if the assembly is in session.)
Most of the states that forego special elections are in the sparsely populated West, where it might be inconvenient for voters to reach the polls.
Even there, the power of appointment is usually vested in the county board of commissioners, an elected body subject to the Open Meetings Act. Only in Illinois and Indiana do party committees choose replacements. As anyone familiar with Illinois’s selection process knows, the party committeemen interview the candidates, then go into a private conclave to vote. The public does not get to hear the debate that goes into picking a new legislator.
The process has resulted in two nasty primaries this year, in which a losing applicant is trying to knock off an apointee. In the 5th state senate district, Patricia Van Pelt Watkins is running against Annazette Collins. Secretary of State Jesse White, who engineered Collins’s appointment, is now endorsing Watkins. White is calling Collins “the most unethical person in government” and claiming she doesn’t live in the district. In response, Collins is threatening to sue White for slander.
In the 14th state representative district, Paula Basta is running against Rep. Kelly Cassidy. According to the Huffington Post:
In this case, both candidates are lesbian Democrats, with similar positions, passionately invested in the district and both are campaigning very hard -- Cassidy to be elected, rather than appointed, and Basta for redemption following last year's defeat. In the months that followed Basta’s announcement, the race has become increasingly tense. Basta's campaign last month claimed that Cassidy allegedly was behind a phone survey whose questions included a charge that Basta was under federal investigation for conducing political work while on the clock at her day job a city position as the regional director of the Levy Senior Center, the Windy City Times reported.
If we had let the voters make the choice in the first place, we might not be having these grudge primaries.
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