Midterm Legislative Vacancies
POSITION IN BRIEF
Action to support filling midterm legislative vacancies by appointment, with an individual of the same political party as the person vacating, within a specified and reasonable time period.
The League of Women Voters of Hawaii believes that midterm legislative vacancies should be filled by an appointment process. Because House terms run for two years, all midterm House vacancies should be filled by appointment. Because Senate terms run for four years, any vacancy during the last two years should be filled by appointment. If a Senate seat becomes vacant during the first two years, it should be filled temporarily by appointment, and a special election should be held at the time of the next general election to fill the remaining two years.
We believe that time is a very important factor in the filling of midterm legislative vacancies, especially because our legislature only meets for annual 60-day sessions. Therefore, we believe our laws should specify a definite and reasonable time period for making an appointment.
We also believe that the political party ratio in the legislature, determined at the last general election, should be maintained. Therefore the person appointed to fill a vacancy should be of the same political party as the vacating legislator.
(Consensus, January 1989)
The 1987 state convention adopted a study on ways to fill midterm legislative vacancies. The issue was of real concern to League members, because by the time the 1987 legislature closed, the governor had filled seven midterm vacancies by appointment. Little did we know then that the 1988 legislature would include three additional midterm gubernatorial appointees.
In 1988, therefore, ten (13%) of the 76 legislators serving in the state legislature were not elected to their seats by the voters of their districts. As provided by state law each one was appointed by the governor from the same political party as the vacating legislator.
As a result of the large number of appointments during a relatively short period of time, the fundamental power of Hawaii's citizens to select their own legislators surfaced as a critical issue. A major question that arose was whether seats vacated in midterm should be filled by special election or whether a method of appointment was appropriate. Concern among legislators themselves prompted the introduction of five bills in 1987 and 1988 proposing changes to the method of filling midterm legislative vacancies. None of the bills became law.
In the summer of 1988, the League of Women Voters of Hawaii issued a publication. Filling Midterm Legislative Vacancies in Hawaii, Issues and Analysis, which looked at the pros and cons of various methods of filling vacancies. Consensus meetings held during the fall of 1988 indicated clear agreement on most aspects of the issue but no clear agreement on one specific aspect.
There was overwhelming consensus that midterm legislative vacancies should be filled by appointment. Members felt strongly that the time period for making the appointment should be specified by law. Suggestions ranged from 10 to 30 days after a vacancy occurs, reflecting members' sense of urgency. At this time our laws do not specify a time limit.
Maintaining political party ratio, as determined by the previous general election, was also very important to the members. At this time the law does require the governor to appoint an individual of the same political party as the vacating legislator.
In coming to the conclusion that an appointive method is preferred over special elections, members felt that while cost should be taken into consideration, it is not the most important factor. Filling a vacancy quickly is a higher priority. In addition, while it would be desirable to have legislative seats filled by elected representatives at all times, the prompt filling of the vacancy is more important.
No clear consensus was reached on who should do the appointing. Three different methods were suggested:
- Appointment by the governor from a list submitted by a political organization (either the party or the party caucus in the legislature)
- Appointment by the legislators of the same party
- Appointment by the county council governing the legislator's district, or if the seat is split between two counties, the seat should be filled by the county council where the vacating member resided
A common theme of agreement running through these various suggestions is that the appointment process should not be vested in a sole individual.
Filling Midterm Legislative Vacancies in Hawaii, Issues and Analysis. League of Women Voters of Hawaii, August 1988