The death of longtime U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein means California’s residents will now encounter two Senate races on their 2024 primary and general election ballots.
Voters will choose someone who will serve the standard full six-year term that begins in January 2025 and, in a special election, a senator to fill the seat from just after election day in November 2024 until the full term begins two months later.
Both the partial and full-term races will be on the primary ballot on March 5 and on the general election ballot on November 5 next year.
The same process occurred in 2022. After Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Alex Padilla to fill the seat formerly held by Vice President Kamala Harris, Padilla was elected to both the partial term as well as the full term.
Reps. Barbara Lee, Adam Schiff and Katie Porter, who are running for the Senate’s full six-year term, have said they would also compete in the race for the partial term as well.
Sen. Laphonza Butler, who Newsom appointed to fill Feinstein’s seat, has not said whether or not she will run for either term, but she has until Dec. 8 to file paperwork with the Federal Election Commission.
Until recently, the appointment of a senator did not involve a partial term and appointees held the seat until the next Congress began.
However, in 2021, the California Legislature changed the process to bring it in compliance with the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution after two court rulings, one in Illinois and one in Arizona.
In the Illinois case, the judge ruled that a special election must be held if there is enough time to organize an election. The judge also determined that even the short period of time between the November election and the start of the new Congress in January could merit a special election.
In the Arizona case, a judge ruled that the governor of a state must call for a special election when there is a senate vacancy, even after designating an appointee, provided there is time to hold an orderly election.
Generally, these special elections are combined with regularly scheduled elections, hence the reason Californians will see two races for the U.S. Senate on the ballot in 2024.