Due to Rep. Jay Inslee's resignation, Washington may have to hold a special election on the same day as the regular November election to fill the final month of his term.
OLYMPIA — U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee’s decision to resign from Congress to focus full time on his gubernatorial race has triggered questions that have state elections officials scrambling to determine whether they need to hold a special election on the same day as the regular November election to fill the final month of his term.
Katie Blinn, the co-director of elections in the state, said Thursday she’s in discussions with the U.S. Committee on House Administration, which has oversight of federal elections. She says the committee raised questions with the state after Inslee announced he would leave his 1st Congressional District seat later this month.
Blinn says that because it’s a redistricting year, it’s possible that the state may have to run two elections for the seat on Nov. 6 — one to finish out the final month of December for Inslee’s term based on old boundaries of the 1st District seat, and another for the new two-year term that starts in January 2013 under new boundaries drawn during redistricting.
“If this were last year, or next year, this would not be an issue,” Blinn said.
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Because of the changes in the boundaries to the congressional districts, Blinn said there’s a possibility that voters who will newly be voting in the 6th Congressional District in November could also have to vote as former 1st Congressional district voters for whoever fills the seat for December. Voters in north King and Snohomish counties where old and new boundaries overlap, would be voting on both, she said.
Candidates also would have to file for both elections.
“It would be confusing for voters, definitely,” she said.
Blinn said that until questions were raised, the state planned to follow state election law, which basically says that when there’s an unexpired term that needs to be filled, the November election for the short term and the following term are just run as one election, and the winner is seated at the beginning of December after the election is certified.
But she said that because congressional officials don’t recognize the newly drawn districts until the next congressional term begins in January, there was concern about the difference in geographical representation between December and January.
Blinn said that another scenario being considered is to just hold an election for the upcoming two-year term, and that whoever is elected in November is not seated until January, avoiding the complication of having to fill a seat for one month for the old 1st District. She said that ultimately Secretary of State Sam Reed will make a decision on what to do.
Blinn said it’s uncertain whether there’s a federal obligation for states to fill a vacant seat within the same year. A message left with the Committee on House Administration was not immediately returned Thursday.
Inslee announced Saturday that he was stepping down to focus on the race for governor. Had Inslee resigned before March 6, Gov. Chris Gregoire would have had to call a special election that would have happened before November to fill his seat for the remainder of the term.
His resignation is effective March 20.
Inslee is in a tough race against Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, the state’s attorney general.