You can blame this on the election of Doug Jones if you like, but the Alabama House of Representatives has advanced a bill which would do away with special elections for senators when a vacancy occurs. Rather than going through that entire process, the state would follow the procedure used by many others, with the Governor making an appointment of a temporary senator until the next general election was held. Given the mood among the state’s majority population of Republicans right about now, it’s probably the perfect time. (Montgomery Advertiser)
The Alabama House of Representatives Tuesday evening approved a bill that would end special elections for the state’s two U.S. Senate seats when vacancies occur.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark and coming after last year’s special election for U.S. Senate, would allow a governor’s appointee for a Senate vacancy to serve until the next general election in the state, rather than have the governor call a special election. The appointee would go through regularly scheduled primaries for that contest.
It passed 67 to 31 on a largely party-line vote after a two-hour filibuster from Democrats who said it would diminish voters’ voices in the process.
Obviously, the Democrats are pushing back against this, but the reasons being offered are rather weak. One of the first claims, put forward by the Democratic representative from Bessemer, was that the change would take away the right to vote. But we’re talking about the Senate. In theory, you’re only supposed to be voting for that seat every six years to begin with. And having a temporary member of the upper chamber appointed by the governor is still, at least to a certain extent, a reflection of the will of the voters since they put the Governor in office themselves. Unlike a house district or some municipal election, the office of U.S. Senator is one of the few which is also a state-wide election.
Some of the benefits of doing this should be obvious. Special elections cost money… frequently quite a bit of it. Every time you hold one you drain more resources out of the system. Also, special elections tend to have significantly lower turnout than the general election. (Though the Doug Jones vs Roy Moore race almost proved to be the exception to the rule.) The lower the turnout, the harder it is to argue that you’ve determined a true picture of the will of the people.
And finally, don’t you eventually get burned out from the entire campaign process? Even I was about sick of politics by the time the 2016 race closed and I have to write about it for a living. Everyone can use a bit of a break during the odd numbered years. At most you’re going to be stuck with an appointed senator for a year or so except under the rarest of conditions.
Now if only we could get some of these states with runoff elections to trim that process back a bit. Having the top two candidates move to a runoff if nobody gets 50% sounds great in theory, but you just wind up having to do the whole thing over again a few weeks later. We allow for presidents and many other elected officials to win with a plurality. Is that really so bad?
In the end, this is obviously a decision which has to be left up to the individual states. But that doesn’t mean we can’t engage in some wishful thinking here. It would be nice to see all the states put something like this in place.