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Filling vacancies in the U.S. Senate

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This page contains information pertaining to how vacancies are filled when they occur in the U.S. Senate. Unlike vacancies in the U.S. House, states have the ability to choose how they fill vacancies that occur in the U.S. Senate.

In 36 states, vacancies are temporarily filled by gubernatorial appointment. A special election is then held coinciding with the next regularly scheduled election to replace the appointee. In the remaining 14 states, a special election is required within a certain time frame to fill the vacancy. Of those 14 states, 10 allow for an interim gubernatorial appointment.

Gubernatorial appointment

Thirty-six states provide for senatorial vacancies by means of appointment by the governor. The appointed person then serves in that position until the next statewide general election is held. The winner of the election then finishes out the term. Those states are as follows:[1]

(1) The appointed person must be of the same political party as the Senator who vacated the seat.
(2) If the vacancy occurs before a specific number of days prior to the regular primary (HI: 60 days; MN: 6 weeks; NJ: 30 days; NY: 59 days; VA: 12 days), the election is held the following November. If it occurs within the period of days before the regular primary, the election is held at the second November election after the vacancy occurs.
(3) The governor makes the appointment by selecting from a list of three provided by the party.

Special election

The remaining 14 states require that a vacancy be filled in a special election within a specified period of time. Of those, each state has specific rules which define whether an interim gubernatorial appointment is to be made and when the special election must be held.[1]

State Interim Gub. Appt.? Special Election Must be Held
Alabama Yes On such a day as the governor may direct, unless vacancy occurs between 2 and 4 months before the next regularly-scheduled general election, in which case it is held at that election. If vacancy occurs within 60 days of the next regularly-scheduled general election, a special election must be held on the first Tuesday after 60 days have elapsed since the vacancy occurred.
Alaska Yes 60-90 days after vacancy occurs
Arkansas Yes (1) Not more than 120 days after vacancy occurs
Connecticut Yes (2) 160th day after vacancy occurs (excluding weekends), unless vacancy occurs between the 125th and 63rd days preceding a regularly-scheduled November general election, in which case vacancy is filled at that election
Louisiana Yes (3) on specific dates provided by law, not less than 11 weeks after the governor's proclamation
Massachusetts Yes 145-160 days after vacancy occurs
Mississippi Yes Within 100 days of when governor receives official notice of vacancy, unless vacancy occurs in the year of a general state or congressional election, in which case the vacancy is filled in that election
Oklahoma No Special primary must be held not less than 53 days after vacancy occurs; runoff primary occurs not less than 20 days later, and general election not less than 20 days after runoff primary; if vacancy occurs after March 1 in an even year, vacancy is filled at regular primary and general election dates
Oregon No as soon as practicable
Rhode Island No At as early a date as is in compliance with the provisions of law. If vacancy occurs between July 1 and October 1 in an even-numbered year, the special election to fill the vacancy is held concurrently with the regularly-scheduled general election.
Texas Yes If vacancy occurs in an even year on or before the 62nd day before the primary, remainder of term is filled at next regular general election. If vacancy occurs after 62nd day before the primary in an even year, or in an odd year, special election is held on the first uniform election date occurring on or after the 36th day the election is ordered
Vermont Yes 3 months following vacancy, unless vacancy occurs within 6 months of the general election, in which case the vacancy is filled at the general election
Washington Yes not less than 100 days following vacancy, unless vacancy occurs within 6 months of the general election, in which case the vacancy is filled at the general election
Wisconsin No between 62 and 77 days after date of order of special election, unless vacancy occurs between the 2nd Tuesday in May and the 2nd Tuesday in July in an even year, in which case the vacancy is filled at the regular primary and general elections

(1) Governor may only make a temporary appointment if the next general election is to be held between 60 days and 12 months after the vacancy occurs.
(2) Governor may only make a temporary appointment in cases where a vacancy occurs after the municipal election in the year preceding the last year of the term or in the last year of the term of a senator. Approval of a nomination requires a two-thirds vote of each legislative chamber.
(3) If the unexpired term is more than one year, an appointment to fill the vacancy shall be temporary. Any senator so appointed shall serve until his successor is elected at a special election and takes office.