Governor Ron DeSantis has set election dates for voters to replace Congressman Alcee Hastings.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday the special election to fill the vacancy created by the April 6 death of Congressman Alcee Hastings won’t be held until January 2022, meaning residents of the South Florida district will go more than nine months with no representation — far longer than normal.
The action by the Republican governor also means a longer time that a Democratic seat will go unfilled.
Democrats in Congress and candidates to succeed Hastings have been demanding that the Republican governor set dates for the special primary and general elections. One of the candidates filed a federal lawsuit last week asking a judge to order DeSantis to set election dates.
At a news conference in Miami, DeSantis said the primary elections will be set for Nov. 2. The general election will be Jan. 11. The supervisors of elections in Broward and Palm Beach counties asked for much earlier dates.
So far 10 people, including six current or former elected officials, have declared themselves candidates for the Hastings seat.
The Constitution requires special elections to fill congressional vacancies. Florida law gives date-setting authority to the governor but doesn’t impose any deadline.
Vacancies between elections don’t happen very often. The late U.S. Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, a Tampa Bay-area Republican, is the only Florida member of Congress to die in office since 2000. Then-Gov. Rick Scott set the special primary for three months later. The special general election was almost five months after Young’s 2013 death.
In October 2009, then-U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler announced he would resign from his Broward-Palm Beach county seat in January 2010.
Then-Gov Charlie Crist set the special primary for early February. The special general election was in mid-April, so the seat was vacant for about 3½ months.
The winner of the special election, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, has been re-elected ever since.
Voter registration in 20th District, which takes in most of the African American and Caribbean American neighborhoods in Broward and Palm Beach counties, is 62% Democratic, 24% no party affiliation/independent, and 13% Republican. President Joe Biden won 79.8% of the 2020 presidential vote in the district. In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton received 79.8%.
The district is so Democratic that the winner of that party’s primary is virtually guaranteed to become the next member of Congress — after the special general election.
Democratic members of Congress and candidates for the job have accused DeSantis of playing politics by leaving the seat open. The Republican governor — who is building his brand for a 2024 campaign for his party’s presidential nomination — has no incentive to do anything that anyone in his party’s base could see as assisting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
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Democrats control the House with just a few votes to spare. There are currently 218 Democrats and 212 Republicans in the House, which means just a few defections can prevent something from passing. Keeping one more Democrat out of Congress makes it somewhat more difficult for Pelosi to pass her party’s priorities.
Until the vacancy is filled, Hastings employees continue to staff the office under the supervision of the Clerk of the House, but can’t provide anything close to full representation, and there is no voting authority. The staffers can’t take positions on policies but can assist constituents with general information and continue with casework in which they attempt to help people with issues related to federal government agencies.
The district boundaries won’t change for the special election. For the regular 2022 elections, the boundaries of all Florida congressional districts will change to reflect population growth and shifts uncovered in the 2020 Census. Starting with the November 2022 elections, Florida gains one more House seat, for a total of 28.
Broward Supervisor of Elections Joe Scott said he and Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link had proposed an Aug. 31 special primary and Nov. 2 special general election, which would have meant a replacement representative chosen 11 weeks earlier than DeSantis timetable.