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A special election is an election which is held to fill a seat which has become vacant between regular elections. This type of election may also be known as a by-election or bye-election, depending on the nation in which it is being held. Such elections can be costly to administer and they are usually not politically important, with a relatively low voter turnout being typical at special elections. However, sometimes a special election will provide a political opportunity and an upset can occur to change the balance of the political system.
There are a number of reasons why a special election might need to be held. An incumbent may die in office, for example, leaving a seat empty. An office holder may also resign, be forced out of office, or be recalled or impeached. It is also possible for someone in office to be appointed to a position with the government, in which case it is conventional to resign in many nations. For example, if the President of the United States names a United States Senator to a cabinet position, that Senator will need to leave the Senate to take the position.
Commonly, the result of a special election is that the party which held the seat before puts forward another candidate and this candidate wins the election, often by a large margin. However, sometimes rival parties take advantage of a special election to introduce a new candidate or to attempt to regain a seat. Sometimes a race for a seat can become hotly contested, especially if political discord and upset are already present. People may see a special election as an opportunity to comment with their votes on the activities of various political parties in these situations.
In advance of a special election, voters usually receive a voter information guide and a sample ballot so that they can prepare for the election. Regional newspapers often endorse candidates, and there may be opportunities to attend debates and other events such as town hall meetings which allow people to meet the candidates and learn more about their political positions. On election day, balloting may be done in polling places or via absentee ballot, depending on the region. Some communities attempt to save money on special elections by holding absentee balloting.
Special elections are sometimes treated as unimportant because the person who wins the seat will not serve a full term. However, once someone manages to gain a seat in an election, she or he can be difficult to dislodge, and may easily be reelected for an additional term. It is wise to pay attention to special elections and to vote even if it does not seem important.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a special election and when is it typically held?
A special election is an electoral process that occurs outside the regular schedule, typically to fill a vacancy in a public office caused by death, resignation, or removal. Unlike general elections, which are held on a predictable cycle (such as every two or four years for many U.S. offices), special elections are held as needed. The timing for a special election is often dictated by state law, with some states requiring the election to be held within a certain number of days after the vacancy occurs.
How does a special election differ from a general election?
Special elections are specifically for filling unexpected vacancies, while general elections are for regularly scheduled votes to choose public officials or decide on legislation. Special elections usually involve a smaller electorate focused on a single office or issue, leading to lower voter turnout compared to general elections. Additionally, the campaign period for a special election is typically shorter, creating a more condensed and sometimes intense political environment.
Who can vote in a special election?
Eligibility to vote in a special election is generally the same as for general elections. Registered voters within the jurisdiction where the vacancy has occurred are eligible to participate. It's important for voters to verify their registration status and the specific rules for the special election, as the requirements and deadlines may differ from those of general elections. Voter registration information can usually be found on the official website of the state's election authority.
What impact do special elections have on political balance?
Special elections can have significant impacts on the political balance, especially if the vacancy is in a legislative body like the U.S. Congress. A single seat can shift the majority control, affecting legislative agendas and the passage of laws. For instance, a special election that changes the majority in the Senate could influence decisions on key issues such as judicial appointments, according to historical voting patterns observed by the Congressional Research Service.
Are special elections expensive, and who pays for them?
Special elections can be costly, as they require all the logistics of a general election‚Äîlike polling staff, equipment, and voter outreach‚Äîconcentrated on a single race. The cost varies widely depending on the size of the electorate and the jurisdiction's voting infrastructure. Taxpayers ultimately bear the financial burden, as state and local governments allocate funds from their budgets to cover these expenses. In some cases, the cost can run into millions of dollars for a single election.