When the United States passed the 17th amendment to the Constitution, it left a hole that FairVote has been highlighting for a few years now: when Senate seats become vacant during a six-year Senate term, governors in most states by state statute have the power to appoint replacements. Nearly a quarter of U.S. Senators have been appointed by a governor since direct election was required for regularly scheduled U.S. Senate elections
After last winter's controversies on U.S. Senate appointments, particularly in Illinois with former governor Blagojevich essentially trying to sell the seat to the highest bidder, there was a rush of attention to reform, including a new constitutional amendment proposed by Sen. Russ Feingold, Sen. John McCain and others. Our analyst David Segal provided cogent testimony to a joint Senate-House judiciary committee hearing in favor of the bill.
Progress is slow in Congress, however, as it pursues other priorities. It's also been slow in the states -- just as Segal anticipated. The best prospect for change this year may well be in Rhode Island, where our affiliate, FairVote Rhode Island has been pushing the idea since last year. Legislation has overwhelmingly passed both houses with bipartisan support. After one of the bills passes the other house, it will go to the governor. The prospective winner? Representative democracy.