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In Recent Special Elections, Some Victors Seated Quickly

Kyle and I wrote yesterday about a scenario in which the winner of next week's special election in Massachusetts could have to wait until March to be seated. That scenario, as we pointed out, is considered unlikely, but the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office noted that the certification process would likely take at least two weeks. The Senate is unlike the House, we were told, and requires a formal certification from the state before a new senator is seated.

A review of other recent special elections for the Senate shows, however, that past winners have at times been seated rather quickly, some in a matter of days. Since 1990, 14 special elections have occurred as a result of vacancies occurring. Six of those resulted in an appointed senator winning the election to complete the unexpired term. In the other eight there was either no appointment at all, the appointed senator was defeated, or the appointed senator did not run in the special election. Here's how quickly the new senators were seated in those cases:

  • In 2002, Jim Talent defeated appointed Senator Jean Carnahan on November 5, and took office on November 25 -- a gap of 20 days.
  • In 1996, Sam Brownback defeated appointed Senator Sheila Frahm in an August primary, and then won the special general election on November 5. He took office November 7, just two days later.
  • Earlier in 1996, Ron Wyden won a special election on January 30, and was seated on February 6 -- seven days later.
  • In 1994, Jim Inhofe won a special election on November 8 and took office November 17 -- a gap of nine days.
  • Fred Thompson also won a special election on November 8, 1994, but didn't take office until December 2, a 24-day gap.
  • In 1993, Kay Bailey Hutchison won a June 5 special election and was seated on June 14, a span of nine days.
  • In 1992, Kent Conrad was elected on December 3 to fill a vacancy. He was already serving in North Dakota's other Senate seat but had not initially sought re-election. He switched to his new seat on December 15, 12 days after the special election.
  • Also that year, Dianne Feinstein defeated appointed Sen. John Seymour in a November 3 election to complete an unexpired term. She took office November 10, a span of seven days.

To sum up, the longest gap in recent history between a candidate winning a special election and being seated was 24 days, while the shortest gap was two. Five of the eight winners were seated in fewer than 10 days -- which is the amount of time Massachusetts cities and towns have to tally local results and send them to the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office.