We’ll know by March 30 whether there’ll be an election to fill Inslee’s seat

Friday, March 23, 2012

By Evan Smith

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire will decide by March 30 whether we’ll vote in November on filling the last few weeks of Jay Inslee’s term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The governor has authority to call for a special election within 10 days of a seat’s becoming vacant. Inslee's position became vacant March 20.

Gregoire could have called a spring election if the seat had been vacant by March 6 – eight months before the November election, but now she only can call a November election, an election that would fill the position for the time between the Dec. 4 election certification and the beginning of the new Congressional term in early January, a period that may or may not include part of a post-election “lame-duck” session.

A November special election would mean that voters in Shoreline, Edmonds, Woodway and nearby areas would vote for a full term in the new 7th District and a four-week term in the old 1st Congressional District.

It also would mean that voters in Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Brier would vote for a full term in the new 2nd District and a short term in the old 1st District, that voters on Bainbridge Island would vote for a full term in the new 6th District and a short term in the old 1st District, and that voters in Bothell, Redmond and Kirkland would vote for a full term in the new 1st District and a short term in the old 1st District.

State co-director of elections Katie Blinn said Monday morning that it would mean lots of different ballots in King, Snohomish and Kitsap counties and that there would be many precincts where some voters would get one ballot and others would get another.

Blinn also said that she is concerned about confusing voters with two U.S. representative contests on the same ballot.

Later in the day, the secretary of state's spokesman, Dave Ammons, said after a meeting with Secretary of State Sam Reed that the secretary’s representatives would meet with the governor’s lawyer to discuss what the governor might do.

Why can’t we have a general election for the short term at the time of the August primary, an election that would fill the vacancy for four months? Because of a state law that requires that an election called within eight months of a general election must be “in concert with the primary and general election, a law that the Legislature could change in the special session.
The U.S. Constitution gives governors the power to make interim appointments for the Senate but not for the House of Representatives.

For all state and local offices, there is someone with the power to make interim appointments.
In most years, the candidate elected for the full term would serve the last few weeks of the old term, but that’s not true in a redistricting year.

In other years, candidates for the position would run for a “short and full term.” The full term is the two-year term that starts in January. The short term is the last few weeks of the old term.

However, this year, the full term that begins in January is for the new 1st District, while the unexpired short term is for the old district. That means that the only way to fill both is to hold two elections, one for a full term in the new district, one for the short term in the old district.

Many of the candidates running in the new district don’t live in the old district, but they still could run for both because the only residency requirement is to live in the state.

Inslee resigned from Congress to pursue his bid for governor.


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