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Job opening: Two-month member of Congress

POULSBO -- Wanted: Someone to serve as member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Great pay and benefits. Length of employment: Two months.

Gov. Chris Gregoire on Monday called for an election to fill the vacancy in the 1st Congressional District. The U.S. Constitution requires the governor to order an election to fill a vacancy during a congressional term. The position was vacated by Jay Inslee, who is running for governor.

As required by state law, the special election will be on the same ballot as the regular primary and general elections. The primary election is Aug. 7 and the general election Nov. 6.

Ah, but there’s a twist to this election. The candidate or candidates for this position will run to represent the current 1st Congressional District. Also on the ballot will be candidates to represent the newly drawn 1st District. Kitsap County will vote for a successor to Inslee and will vote to elect a new representative of the 6th District, in which they will live come January.

In other words, candidates to fill the vacancy will be on some of the same ballots as candidates for newly drawn district seats. New congressional boundaries are drawn every 10 years, and the boundaries proposed by the citizen redistricting commission were accepted by the Legislature and become effective for elections for the new congressional terms that begin in January.

The result: The new member of Congress representing the old 1st District will serve only until Jan. 3, when new House members take office. A candidate could run for the old 1st District seat and the new 1st District seat, but that would require two campaigns with accounting for contributions and spending for both.

Confused? Yeah, the governor is concerned about that.

“I am concerned about the voter confusion that could result,” Gregoire said in a press release about the special election. “This is an unusual situation where an election to fill a vacancy occurs in a year of redistricting. The result is some voters will cast a ballot in the current 1st District for the special vacancy election and will also cast a vote in their new district for their next representative in Congress. I’ve asked the Secretary of State to work with county election officers to pursue an aggressive voter education campaign so constituents understand the votes they are casting. I also ask the media to help educate and inform the public in the existing and new 1st Congressional Districts.”

Secretary of State Sam Reed responded. “I support the governor’s decision to allow voters of the 1st Congressional District to fill the remainder of Rep. Jay Inslee’s term by holding a special election in conjunction with our regularly scheduled primary and general election. The winner of the full two-year term will be chosen by the voters of the newly redistricted 1st District, but the short term must be filled by the voters of the old 1st District who elected Jay Inslee. We will work with the affected counties to explain this situation clearly.”

If Washington conducted a special election using the new 1st District boundaries, the House of Representatives could decide not to seat the person elected, according to a memorandum by the General Counsel to the House of Representatives Committee on House Administration. 

The memorandum notes that if new district boundaries were used to elect a representative for the remainder of the current Congress, it would mean some voters in the old district would have no representative for the remainder of the term while other voters who were previously part of another congressional district would be represented by two members of Congress, possibly violating “one-person, one-vote” constitutional principles.       

Reed's office told The Seattle Times that the special election will cost the state an extra $770,000.

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