Nuts & Bolts: Inside the Democratic Party: Special Elections

Nuts & Bolts: Inside the Democratic Party: Special Elections

It’s another Sunday, so for those who tune in, welcome to a diary discussing the Nuts & Bolts of a Democratic campaign. If you’ve missed out, you can catch up any time: Just visit our group or follow the Nuts & Bolts Guide. Every week I try to tackle issues I’ve been asked about. With the help of other campaign workers and notes, we address how to improve and build better campaigns, or explain issues that impact our party.

When new presidential administrations come in, a series of special elections often appear. These elections can occur in the spring or the following November, depending on the state. They can occur because a member of the House has been chosen for the Cabinet. Some elections aren’t directly “special” they are the result of runoff rules, like Georgia. Special elections have their own unique twists and turns, and they present a different challenge to volunteers, campaign staff, and candidates. 

Right now, you’re going to find a lot of focus around Georgia’s runoff election, triggered by no candidate receiving 50%+ of the vote. This election differs from most special elections in that it is part of the known process, and many of these candidates have had an extended period of time to campaign.

In one area, however, it is VERY similar. Special elections are, for the most part, turnout-based elections. Whoever turns out their own voters will win. The reason for this is simple. The elections are scheduled at times that are not normal for voters, and it means more education has to occur to get voters to the poll. Let’s be serious, most voters do not think of January 5 as a time to go and vote. The first week of November? Sure. Voters remember that, and they will have plenty of advertising to tell them so. States that have spring elections see significant drop-offs, but even in those spring local elections, there becomes a familiarity where both parties can anticipate the voter models they think will show up.

A special election can be a complete unknown. This means that campaigns will spend less time trying to motivate voters who are undecided and far more time getting their own voters to the polls, making sure that known support for them actually hits the ballot box as the safe means to win. This complicates many special elections because, for many Democratic candidates, they find the number of absolutely sure Democratic voters are also the voters who face a more difficult time getting to special elections, which can help the Republican candidate before things even get going.

Putting Georgia aside, though, we have to look at how a special election runs when it is not a runoff.

Vacancy triggers

Every state can have its own guidance, but it all begins with a vacancy. When a seat for the House or Senate opens, the state sets election date for that seat to be filled. In the Senate, that can be to serve out a term, the next immediate election, or a special election. This is covered in the Constitution Article 1, Section 2, Clause 4. This is then handled by state policy.

Elections for vacancies can occur quickly or with some delay, depending on state policy, but often result in a huge flood of potential candidates seeking an open seat. This is due to the fact if the seat is open due to a presidential selection to a Cabinet or other role, the post is thought of as “safe.” If it is a seat that is up for grabs due to death or other ailments, you will see a rush to contest that seat on both sides.

Once a vacancy occurs, and the state guidance kicks in, it is really up to both the party and outside organizations to find the right candidate and to carry forth a fast-paced election focused on making sure their own voters get to the polls first, and then win over other voters. Campaigns that do not make sure their own voters vote on the Democratic side are doomed before they ever start.

Special elections without a special election?

Can you have a special election without a special election? In numerous states, local and state offices that suffer a vacancy are not filled by a general public election. Members of a local precinct or county party organization of which the officeholder was a member replace that elected official. So, imagine Jim James goes to his state capital and is a state legislator. One night, Rep. James suffers a stroke and passes away. After a mourning period, there is a gathering determined under state statute and all precinct members (in some states) or county organizations (others) within his party and that are in that district may gather and vote on his replacement. This process can mean as few as three or five or six people vote on a replacement elected official—something that has happened repeatedly in my experience.

In these cases, it is up to the candidate to get really personal and make not only a case to this small handful of influential party members about why they deserve it, but also make a case as to how they plan to hold the office. 

Are you ready?

Special elections are straight ahead as President-Elect Biden makes his choices. Get ready and let’s get it done!


From Daily Kos at Read More. This article is republished from DailyKos under an open content license. Read the original article at DailyKos.

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