My Member of Congress Just Resigned -- Now What?

McCotter makes eight.

On July 5, 2012, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter resigned from Congress, noting an "absence of harmony" between the "needs of [the] constituency and [his] family" and quoting Bob Dylan: "for the sake of my loved ones I must 'strike another match, go start anew...'"

Everyone has reasons.

Members resign for a variety of reasons. Gabrielle Giffords resigned to focus on her recovery. Anthony Weiner, Chris Lee, and David Wu all resigned after some variation of scandal. Jane Harman resigned for a new gig as head of the Woodrow Wilson Center. Jay Inslee resigned to run for governor of Washington. Dean Heller resigned to accept an appointment to the U.S. Senate.

"Special" elections are expensive.

When a Senator resigns, the governor of the represented state may immediately appoint a successor. For the House of Representatives, things are more complicated. The Constitution (Article I, Section 2, Clause 4) requires that Representatives must be elected -- and provides for a special election to be called to fill the seat. Special elections can cost taxpayers anywhere from $300,000 to $3,000,000. Last year, this cost had some calling on former Congresswoman Jane Harman to contribute to the cost of the special election that was held to fill her seat.

So where does that leave constituents?

Given the extensive special election process, districts left behind when a Member of Congress calls it quits are inevitably without representation for several months. Formally, the House
takes over management of the office, where existing employees continue to work. As
on the Clerk's page for
(Jay Inslee's former district): constituents of the vacant district have no voting representation in Congress. The interim office cannot take positions or advocate policy.
  • Constituent messages about policy to the vacant office are acknowledged. Staff can answer questions about the status of bills, but cannot offer explanations or positions.
  • Staff can continue to help out with casework -- so inquiries about Medicare, Social Security, immigration, etc., can still proceed on your behalf.
  • Staff can still help with tours or order flags that have been flown over the Capitol.

On POPVOX, we try to strike a balance for the constituents of vacant districts. Positions and comments are still registered in public bill reports, messages are delivered to the office, even though the input will not affect the decisions of a voting Member. In many ways, a transparent record of what constituents have to say on the issues is even more important in these cases. If no Representative is in place to hear the opinions of the constituents, at least the local newspaper or the candidates vying to fill the seat can take note. They might see, for example, in Jay Inslee's former district, 20 people weighed in on the Farm bill (10 percent in favor, 90 percent opposed).

For a list of all resignations of the 112th Congress, see below:

Huge hat tip to POPVOX developer, Annalee Flower Horne, former Congressional staffer and all-around Congressional trivia encyclopedia.