Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, is generally considered a top contender to be Joe Biden's running mate. If she was elected Vice President, she would have to resign her seat in the Senate. How would her replacement be chosen?

While I know the governor names an initial replacement, followed by a special election, but what determines the timing of this? Can the governor's decision be overruled by the legislature?


1 Answer 1


The "official" rule is

[A special election] 145-160 days after vacancy occurs. If a vacancy occurs after April 10 but on or before the 70th day before the regular state primary, the office shall appear on the regular state primary ballot. If a vacancy occurs after that time, the office shall appear on the state election ballot that November.


In Massachusetts a bill was passed in response to the death of Senator Edward Kennedy and his request that the current law be changed. Previous law in Massachusetts called for a special election to be held, but not until five months after the vacancy occurs. The new law retains the special election, but permits the governor to appoint a temporary successor in the interim.


In 2004, to prevent the Republican Governor from appointing a Republican, the Democrat legislature passed laws which mandated a special election. However in 2009, when Ted Kennedy died, there was a desire that the post should be filled promptly, and the law was amended so that the Governor could make an interim appointment.

The timings are further complicated by the postponement of elections due to COVID-19 restrictions. However it seems reasonably clear that

  1. The Governor can only appoint an interim senator.
  2. The Governor cannot be overruled by the legislature, but the legislature can amend the law before the Governor makes their choice.
  3. The timing of the special election is about 5 months after the post falls vacant.
  • I think point 2 is incorrect, or at least incomplete. It the law points out clear timepoints where the special election would be combined with the Primary election, and Scott Brown was elected in a Special election on Jan 19, 2010 which was neither a General or Primary election
    – divibisan
    Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 15:12
  • If Warren resigns her senatorial seat to run as VP, then the timing (it seems to me) would lead to a November special election. My maths may be wrong...
    – James K
    Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 15:15
  • I see, that makes sense, though in this hypothetical, it seems more likely that she'd wait until getting elected before deciding to resign her seat. I was hoping for a more general answer, if possible, rather than one specific to this one scenario.
    – divibisan
    Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 15:17
  • Ok, well I'll remove that point. The general principles are above.
    – James K
    Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 15:19

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