State of Elections

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Tag: Appointment

New York: Giving Power to the People

By Fahad Naeem

“It’s not the hand that signs the laws that holds the destiny of America. It’s the hand that casts the ballot.” The power given to voters to choose who gets elected to office is a vast and important right to protect. The people vote for candidates that best represent the interests and perform the duties required of their offices. However, states can steal that power from citizens by allowing state legislators or the governor to appoint officers for vacant positions, as New York had done in its state constitution. New York’s constitution effectively deprived voters of the ability to elect a candidate of their choice. The Attorney General and Comptroller positions can be occupied from several months to several years without any check or say by the voters. That provision was inconsistent with the goal articulated by New York’s constitution in Article 1 Section 1 which states:  “No member of this state shall be disfranchised, or deprived of any of the rights or privileges secured to any citizen thereof . . .” Continue reading

Want to Be a Senator, but Hate Those Pesky Elections? Just Become a ‘Temporary’ Appointee

The legal controversy over the appointment of a replacement to the Senate seat previously held by President Barack Obama is likely drawing to a close.  In the process of resolving the controversy, the U.S. Supreme Court also clarified their interpretation of a key portion of the Seventeenth Amendment regarding vacancies in Senate seats.  This topic has been relevant lately, particularly following the 2008 election cycle.  When Senator Obama was elected President, his incoming administration including numerous sitting Senators including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and, of course, himself.  Despite its seemingly straight-forward language, the Seventeenth Amendment required a certain amount of parsing to ensure these senatorial appointments would fulfill its procedural requirements.

The Seventeenth Amendment, ratified in 1913, in addition to providing for the direct election of senators, altered the procedure for filling vacancies in that office.  The amendment provides that, in the event of a vacancy, the governor must issue a “writ of election” to hold an election for a permanent replacement to fill the seat.  The state legislature may empower the governor to make a temporary appointment, but the appointee may only serve until the special election is held to fill the vacancy.  A date for a special election must be set by the governor, but the amendment does not specify when exactly it must be held. Continue reading

MA Legislature Flirts with Unconstitutionality in Compromise Regarding Appointed Senator

The 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is known best for establishing direct election of senators, but it also allows state legislatures to empower the governor to appoint a replacement to complete the term of any vacancy due to death, resignation, or expulsion. While many states have used this provision to fill their vacancies, the Amendment does not clarify whether this replacement is permitted to run for the seat in the next election. It is presumed that any legislation specifically forbidding this may be unconstitutional.

Senator Edward Kennedy’s death on August 25th, 2009 created a vacancy in the Senate. Pursuant to MA GL ch. 54, § 140, Governor Deval Patrick set a special election date for January 19th, 2010. On September 19th, 2009, in accordance with the 17th Amendment, the Massachusetts House passed a bill allowing the governor to appoint an interim senator to represent the state until the special election takes place in 2010. On September 22nd, the MA Senate also approved the bill, and the General Court with both houses gave final approval the following day. On September 24th, the governor signed the bill into law. Patrick then appointed Paul G. Kirk, Jr. as interim US senator. His appointment will expire after the special election on January 19th, 2010. Governor Patrick chose Kirk under the condition that he not run in the special election, in response to both the MA House and Senate passing resolutions requesting that the selectee not run in the special election. Continue reading

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