For Immediate Release
/ August 21st 2009

FairVote: Massachusetts Should Not Move to Appointed Senators

Reform Group Says Proposed State Law Would Be a Step Backward for Democracy

For Immediate Release: 
August 21, 2009

David Segal, analyst - [email protected] - 401-499-5991
Rob Richie, executive director - [email protected] - 301-270-4616
Paul Fidalgo, communications director - [email protected] - 202-615-1295

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy requested yesterday that the governor and state legislature of Massachusetts change the law to allow the governor to appoint a new U.S. senator should the senator need to vacate his seat. FairVote, a nonpartisan election reform organization, opposes such a change, and today reiterated its call for all U.S. Senators to be elected by the people they represent, as is true of every Member who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"No one wants to see an empty U.S. Senate seat, but democratic principles demand that all Members of Congress, in either house, answer to their constituents rather than a sole individual with their own interests and agenda," said FairVote analyst David Segal, who testified earlier this year before Congress on this issue. "Sen. Kennedy's proposal may be offered with the best of intentions and certainly we applaud his affirmation of the general value of special elections for U.S. Senate, but this proposed change would be a step backward. The state instead should explore other modifications such as shortening the campaign season and using a one-round election with instant runoff voting to uphold the goal of majority rule."

Nearly a quarter of all U.S. Senators serving since the ratification of the 17th amendment have been appointed without election. Once Florida governor Charlie Crist chooses a replacement for the retiring Sen. Mel Martinez -- even as Gov. Crist seeks the seat for himself in 2010 -- and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas appoints an interim replacement for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, almost 27 percent of the U.S. population will be represented by at least one unelected Senator.  In addition, four of the five most populous states will be represented by unelected U.S. Senators.

Massachusetts is one of the few states that requires a special election to fill Senate vacancies. It passed a law requiring elections in 2004, when Sen. John Kerry was seeking the presidency and Republican Mitt Romney was governor. This year Connecticut also enacted a requirement for special elections, with Republican governor Jodi Rell signing legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature. Both houses of the Rhode Island legislature also passed a similar law. FairVote continues to support measures requiring that anyone holding a seat in the U.S. Senate does so through direct election by the people of their state, including a proposed constitutional amendment (SJ 7) mandating elections for Senate vacancies, introduced by Sen. Russ Feingold and cosponsored by a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators, including Sen. John McCain. On August 6th, the legislation passed the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution.

FairVote's executive director Rob Richie commented, "We need to pass the Feingold-McCain constitutional amendment to protect voting rights in Senate elections in all states. As David Segal testified before the Judiciary Committee in March, state-by-state efforts are laudable, but vulnerable to the short-term parochial interests of governors and partisans in legislatures. A uniform requirement for elections would establish a level playing field for all Americans."

FairVote analyst David Segal is available for comment at [email protected] and 401-499-5991. His commentary on this issue has appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, and just weeks before the June win in Connecticut, the Hartford Courant. FairVote's Rob Richie can be reached at [email protected] and (301) 270-4616.

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Established in 1992, FairVote is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that educates and enlivens discourse on how best to achieve a democracy that respects every voice and every vote. We pursue innovative research, strategic outreach and civic education in order to promote fair access to political participation, fair elections, and fair representation. For more information, contact communications director Paul Fidalgo at [email protected] or (301) 270-4616.