Last week's confirmation of U.S. Rep. Ellen Tauscher of Alamo as Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security is expected to cause a scramble among candidates seeking to fill her 10th District congressional seat.
With the confirmation, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has 14 days in which to declare a special election for the seat. Contra Costa County Clerk Steve Weir said that he and the clerks of the other three counties in the 10th district have all sent their request to the governor that the election be declared for the Nov. 3 general election.
"All four counties have asked him to schedule it for that date," said Weir. "It would save local entities participating in the election some money."
Since the congressional seat is a partisan position, a primary would have to be held as well. Weir said if the Nov. 3 date is chosen, the primary would be held Sept. 1. He added that the primary would not be the standard two-ballot polling normally seen.
"It's a blanket primary, which means you run by party but everyone is on the same ballot," he explained.
Having the blanket primary would create two large differences in the normal process. First, independents would be allowed on the ticket. Weir said that the nominating process for independents would be different than for Republicans or Democrats. Members of those parties are only required to have 40-60 signatures of resident voters, while that number could be as high as 1,000 for independents.
Secondly, if there is a clear majority winner the seat is filled and there will be no general election.
"If there's someone who gets 50 percent plus one it cancels the general. The idea is that if there's a clear replacement, we put them in office," Weir stated.
Muddying the waters further is the fact that a person does not have to be a resident of the 10th congressional district in order to run. Weir said he has fielded calls from Marin to Washington, D.C., from individuals interested in running. Weir said the federal constitution requires residency only before the candidate takes office.
Weir said his office has hit the ground running and is getting its materials ready for the November election. As of press time, Schwarzenegger had not issued the special election. Weir said the longer the governor waits, the less time interested candidates will have to complete the nominating process.