Ballotpedia Report Alert: Out of 171 State Legislative Vacancies, 42 Remain to be Filled

The non-partisan portal Ballotpedia, which frequently analyzes federal and state governments' statistics, has yet again shed light on the pieces at stake next November. Throughout 2021, they identified 171 new vacancies in state legislatures across the country. Of them, 42 remain to be filled and will be up for grabs during the 2022 midterm election. 

About Legislative Vacancies

Whenever a member of a State legislature needs to leave their post, a new legislative vacancy opens. Most commonly, this happens after a state official is appointed to a different office, takes on a new incompatible job, or resigns. Seats can also go vacant if a State Representative or Senator is removed from office following a criminal conviction or death.

Throughout 2021, 171 seats became vacant across 43 different states. Most of these seats belonged to state Houses, although 47 corresponded to state Senates. Representing the near-equal division of electoral districts in the country, 90 spots were left vacant by Democrats, while 81 used to belong to members of the Republican Party.

Are these spots just being left empty?

In most cases, no. Each State Constitution outlines different procedures to handle vacancies created in the middle of a term.  

In 25 states, filling these vacancies requires holding special elections in each electoral district. In 22 other States, replacements are appointed by a Board of County Commissioners, the Governor, or the political party who had won the seat for that term.

In Ohio, the State's Legislative Chamber is expected to elect a replacement. Meanwhile, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Kansas all use unique hybrid systems that combine appointments or additional elections, depending on when the vacancy happens.

When vacancies occur close to a more significant election, some states prefer to defer the special election. As a result, 42 spots remained empty until 2022.

When and Why Is This Happening?

A closer look at where and why these vacancies exist also yields exciting insights.

Most vacancies occur when a State Representative is appointed to a different office – a common occurrence when local governments need to select the best and brightest in their respective jurisdictions.

Four representatives in Ohio, Oregon, Missouri, and North Dakota were removed following accusations or criminal charges. In all these cases, the scandal involved elected members of the Republican Party.

In addition, 25 representatives died before completing their term, leaving their seats vacant. Four of them belonged to the Democratic Party, while 21 were Republican.

Finally, the largest amount of vacancies happened in Arizona. However, all these seats were then filled by appointees by the Board of County Supervisors.

Why Are Vacant Spots Important?

Vacancies often leave behind small power vacuums.

When they require a new election, they offer an opportunity to conduct small, informal referendums on the governing party's performance. This information is often used to predict more significant results in upcoming midterm or general elections. A small special election is also an important "training ground" for local grassroots activists and provides room for junior members of each party to capture the spotlight.

In States where replacements are appointed, the implications are not as flashy. However, by looking at who is in charge of the appointment – and who gets to choose the choosers – we can get a glance at unusual power holders.

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