A Better Choice
Sen. Feingold wants Senate vacancies filled by the voters.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

SEN. RUSSELL Feingold (D-Wis.) has a problem with all the folks filling vacated seats in the Senate. The issue is not with them personally. Rather, it's how they got there: not by the will of the people but by the will -- or whim -- of the governors of their home states. So Mr. Feingold has introduced a constitutional amendment that will put the power to fill Senate vacancies in the hands of voters through a special election.

Thanks to the election of President Obama, who plucked a vice president and two cabinet secretaries from the Senate, governors in Illinois, Delaware, New York and Colorado were tasked with appointing their successors. In some cases the seats have been treated like family heirlooms or -- allegedly -- like property to be sold to the highest bidder. In another case, the process to choose the next occupant was opaque and unbecoming. But in all cases, how the new senators came to Washington is undemocratic and shouldn't continue.

What Mr. Feingold proposes would be a fix of the 17th Amendment, which gave voters the right to elect their senators. It also gave governors the power to fill vacancies. The Feingold amendment reads, "When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies."

As with all constitutional amendments, this reform will have to pass by a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate. Then it must be passed by three-fourths of the state legislatures within seven years. Mr. Feingold chose this route because a state-by-state effort to change the system would be at the mercy of governors with veto power.

We're not fans of constitutional amendments, especially when they seek to take rights away. But the alternative is further unseemly and undemocratic appointments of U.S. senators. Mr. Feingold plans to hold hearings "soon" on his proposed amendment. We urge anyone who has a better way to solve this problem to testify.

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