January 17, 2011
CONTACT INFORMATION: Terri McCoy, (406) 444-2807
McCulloch: U.S. Senate Vacancies Should be Filled by Special Elections,
Not Special Favors
HELENA – Secretary of State Linda McCulloch wants the Legislature to change the way vacant United States Senate seats are filled in Montana. McCulloch on Friday testified in support of Senate Bill 48, her requested legislation to fill vacancies by special elections rather than gubernatorial appointments.
“Filling an unexpected or unscheduled vacancy in the United States Senate should require special elections, not special favors,” McCulloch testified. “While I am confident in the ability of a Governor from Montana to honorably appoint the most qualified person, I am certain that Montana voters can do an even better job of selecting the right candidate.”
Montana is currently one of thirty-six states that grant sole authority to fill vacant seats to the Governor. The remaining fourteen states hold special elections either immediately or following an interim of 60 to 90 days. SB 48, which is being sponsored by Senator Branae, calls for an immediate election, except for when a vacancy occurs within 150 days of a calendared federal election.
“Montana already requires special elections for vacancies in the U.S. House of Representatives,” McCulloch said. “Requiring the same process for U.S. Senators is not only appropriate, it is levelheaded, fair, and most importantly, democratic.”
Since approval of the 17 th Amendment in 1913 only two senators from Montana have been appointed to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat (Senator John Erickson in 1933, and Senator Paul G. Hatfield in 1978). Neither was subsequently elected to the office when Montana voters were given the right to make the choice.
“Historically speaking, appointed Senators have not always been the people’s choice here in Montana,” said McCulloch. “Montanans are independent. Our voters don’t want a self-serving government.”
Senate Bill 48 has no fiscal impact on the state general fund. Counties will be required to administer the special election if the timing of the vacancy does not correspond with a federal election.