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We need a constitutional amendment for special elections

Friday, July 2, 2010; A22

The Post is exactly right that West Virginia's next U.S. senator should be accountable to the voters, not just the governor ["Replacing Sen. Robert Byrd," editorial, June 29]. You also are right to remind readers that every U.S. House vacancy has been filled by election, grounded in the Constitution.

But you should not limit your call for action to West Virginia passing a statute to require special elections. A Democratic legislature with a Democratic governor will be unlikely to pass such a law when Republican-controlled states lack it. And in states with a governor of a different party than the legislature, a governor will typically veto such a measure for partisan reasons.

While constitutional amendments may seem hard to pass, sometimes they are the most realistic path to national change. Even while we support new state laws, it's time to call for a national standard that requires all states to have provisions for Senate vacancy elections. Sens. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other congressional leaders have proposed doing just that. The day we stop believing we can amend the Constitution is the day we forfeit belief in the strength of our representative democracy.

Rob Richie, Takoma Park

The writer is executive director of FairVote.

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