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No More Special Elections, Please! Here Are 2 Ideas to Avoid Them

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Turnout to special elections tend to be very low.
Turnout to special elections tend to be very low. | Photo: billadler/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Almost every time elected officials leave their posts early, there is a special election. The word special makes it sound like there is something to celebrate -- there is not. These "special" elections cost all of us time and money. And they may not be worth it.

On Tuesday, July 23 there will be two special elections in the California legislature and one in the city of Los Angeles. The first is a Senate race in the Central Valley, where Senator Michael Rubio resigned to go work for Chevron Corporation as a government affairs manager. The second legislature race is in the 52nd Assembly District. there, former Assemblywoman Norma Torres played some musical chairs and became a State Senator. In L.A., 6th district City Council member Tony Cardenas left for Congress.

There will be additional special elections in September for two other former state legislators, both who left for to become members of the Los Angeles City Council. Those elections will be held in the San Fernando Valley, in the 45th Assembly District, and in Culver City, in the 26th Senate District.

In addition to costing time and money, special elections also tend to be very low turnout elections. This means that the representatives are often chosen by a small percentage of the eligible voters.

So what should we do?

One alternative is to get rid of term limits altogether. One reason that politicians leave their current jobs early is that they know they will be termed out and so frequently have their eye on their next position. Let's reduce the incentive for officials to focus on anything but their current position. (For more on why I am not a fan of term limits, read my earlier analyses here and here).

Another alternative, one that will more directly reduce the number of special elections, is to empower a jurisdiction's chief executive to appoint a temporary official to fill the vacancy until the next regularly scheduled election. The governor could appoint legislators. The mayor could appoint city council members. When so few people turn out to vote in special elections anyway, there should be fewer concerns about giving another representative the power to make a temporary appointment.

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