Utah Has Not Held a Special Election for U.S. Congress in 86 Years

CongressUtah lawmakers may have to scramble in the first days of the 2017 election to fix a big hole in Utah election law, mostly because there’s no procedure for replacing a U.S. Representative who resigns mid-term.

As UtahPolicy.com reported first last week, state law only says in the case of a vacancy in the U.S. House, the governor shall issue a proclamation calling for a special election. There’s a very good reason nobody caught those vagaries in the law before – it’s never had to be used.

UtahPolicy.com reached out to Dr. Eric Ostermeier who runs the excellent political blog Smart Politics at the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Ostermeier tells us that there have only been two special elections for the U.S. House in state history, and none since 1930.

According to Smart Politics, Democrat Brigham Roberts won the at-large U.S. House Election in 1898. However, he was not seated by the U.S. House as an overwhelming number of members refused to let him assume his office, due mostly to the fact that he practiced plural marriage. The protracted battle over the seat stretched into 1900 when the seat was declared vacant. The special election for his seat was held in April of that year.

Five-term Republican Elmer Leatherwood died in December 1929, but the election to replace him was not held until Election Day in November of 1930.

Utah has gone 107 consecutive elections without a special election for U.S. House. Only two states have gone longer without holding one: Idaho has never had one since statehood in 1890 and Delaware in 1900.