The Washington Post and New York Times have both run strong editorials this week on the value of electing U.S. Senate vacancies, backing up a long-time FairVote position on this issue as laid out in a recent New York Times commentary by my colleague David Segal. Like the Times and Post, we support the latest reform collaboration by Senators Russ Feingold and John McCain: Senate Joint Resolution 7 that would amend the Constitution to require popular election of vacancies. But states should not wait -- they can join Wisconsin, Oregon and Massachusetts in filling vacancies by election.
With New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg's nomination to be Commerce Secretary, we now have our fifth Senate vacancy since the election. This high number helps explain a surprising fact: nearly a quarter of the United States senators who have taken office since the 17th Amendment seemingly required popular election of Senators have done so via appointment rather than election.
Appointees come to office without clear accountability to the voters and often are weak Senators who lose if they attempt re-election. The Washington Post on January 24 published an editorial reviewing he problematic nature of the current process through the lens of recent appointments. We've seen weak placeholders, gubernatorial dithering and outright corruption.
Sen. Feingold's statement upon introducing SJ Res 7 masterfully lays out the argument. As with so many successful amendments, SJ Res 7 would expand democracy. Keep track of it -- as fivethirtyeight.com blogger Nate Silver points out, we just win our first constitutional amendment in more than three decades.
ADDENDUM: My colleague Matt Morse blogged today on this same topic, focusing on the vacancy appointment process in New Hampshire.