Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
DeSantis to decide timing of election to fill seat.
The vacancy created by the death Tuesday of U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings will be filled by the voters.
The Constitution requires elections for members of the U.S. House, and gives governors the responsibility for calling elections to fill vacancies. Florida law gives Gov. Ron DeSantis broad authority to decide on the timing of the special primary and general elections.
One thing that is almost guaranteed: The next representative from the BrowardPalm Beach County 20th Congressional District will be a Democrat.
The numbers tell why. Voter registration 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, reported Matthew Isbell, Democratic data analyst with MCI Maps. In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton received 79.8%.
If the Republican governor wants to extend the time the U.S. House Democratic majority does without an additional vote, he doesn’t have to call the primary and general elections quickly.
Whoever wins the special election would have the immense advantage of incumbency in 2022, but there’s a catch: District boundaries will be redrawn for next year’s elections to account for population changes uncovered in the 2020 Census.
Under mid-1980s revisions to the federal Voting Rights Act, the boundaries were drawn to create a district that increases the chance that someone from a minority group can win the election and bring a voice that wouldn’t be otherwise heard to the halls of Congress. That helped Hastings win his first election, in 1992.
The 20th District takes in most of the African American and Caribbean American communities in Broward and Palm Beach counties. The Broward part of the district is home to 69.1% of its registered voters; 30.9% live in Palm Beach County.
The district’s residents are 53% Black, 23% Hispanic and 19% white.
Special elections are notorious for their low voter turnout, and a large field of candidates is expected to compete for the nomination. Several have been officially or informally running for months. That means that someone could win the primary by turning out only a small sliver of voters, and then go on to win the general election, one reason low-turnout special elections are especially difficult to predict.
If several Black candidates enter the Democratic primary and one Hispanic or white candidate is running, that person could win the nomination. Or if several candidates from Broward and one from Palm
Beach county run, the Palm Beach County person could more easily win.
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, thenU.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 three-anda-half months.
The winner of the special election, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, has been re-elected ever since.
Until the vacancy is filled, Hastings employees continue to staff the office under the supervision of the Clerk of the House. 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.
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