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Filling a Vacancy in the California Legislature

A legislative vacancy is only filled by the electorate through a special election

By Chris Micheli, December 31, 2021 7:00 am

Over the past year, Capitol observers have witnessed vacancies occur in state legislative offices. What is the process for filling vacancies in the California Legislature?

First, in Article IV, Section 2(d) of the California Constitution, it specifies that, “When a vacancy occurs in the Legislature the Governor immediately shall call an election to fill the vacancy.” As a result, a legislative vacancy is only filled by the electorate through a special election. Readers may recall that vacancies in constitutional offices are filled by a gubernatorial appointment, with legislative confirmation.

How is the phrase “immediately shall call” defined? It is not defined in the state Constitution, but a state statute specifies 14 calendar days.

Second, the specifics are provided in Government Code Section 1773 and apply to vacancies in either the Legislature or Congressional Representative (and not to the US Senate). Pursuant to Section 1773, when a vacancy occurs in either house of the Legislature, the Governor must, within 14 calendar days after the occurrence of the vacancy, issue a writ of election to fill the vacancy.

There is one exception to this rule. When a vacancy occurs in a legislative office after the close of the nomination period in the final year of the term of office, no special election is held and the office remains vacant until the regularly scheduled election.

After the Governor issues writ of election, a special election is held and the vacancy in the State Senate or State Assembly is filled by the electors of that Assembly or Senate district.

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