Political Education

What Happens When a Senator Dies

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Sadly Arizona Senator John McCain passed away on August 25, 2018. As the state, and the country mourns or pauses to think about the life and legacy of Senator McCain, another question comes to people’s minds. What happens to his Senate seat?

When the Constitution was originally written the members of the House of Representatives were directly elected and the members of the Senate were chosen by their state legislatures. As time and history went forward the people wanted control over their members of government, and the 17th Amendment was passed. The 17th Amendment established that each state shall elect two members, and that each member would be elected for a six year period and have one vote in the Senate. This amendment also established that the “executive authority” of each state should have the ability to fill vacancies in the Senate, unless the laws of the state say otherwise. The state legislation can give the “executive authority” of the state the power to make a temporary appointment until another election can take place. “Executive authority” in a state is the governor.

In the state of Arizona, the governor will make an appointment for vacated Senate seats. That person will hold the seat until the next general election. McCain’s seat is not on the ballot because his seat was not vacated before May, if it had been then that seat would be on this upcoming ballot. Whomever the governor appoints must be of the same party as the seat that was vacated, in this case a Republican. That person will hold this seat until November 2020 in which he or she can choose whether to run for that seat or not. Whomever wins that election will hold McCain’s Senate seat until the end of his term.

Each state has varying election laws, but at the end of the day there is usually an appointment by the governor, even if for a short time. What makes this interesting, is in the past widows would fill their husbands senate or house seat, with the belief that she knew what her husband would have done and wouldn’t run for office again.

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