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About Electing and Appointing Senators

The Constitution granted state legislatures the power to elect United States senators. Supporters of the Constitution argued that this method of election would strengthen the states' ties to the national government and insulate senators from shifting public opinion. To further distance the Senate from democratic pressures, the framers of the Constitution also provided that only one-third of the Senate would stand for election every two years.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, electoral deadlocks in state legislatures along with growing public concern about corruption in Senate elections led to calls for reform. In 1912 Congress passed a constitutional amendment that provided for direct election of senators by the people of each state. The states ratified the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, and the first popular Senate elections were held in 1914.

In the case of a vacancy due to the death or resignation of a senator, the Constitution originally granted governors the power to appoint a replacement only if the legislature was not in session at the time of vacancy. With the change to direct popular election of senators, the Seventeenth Amendment allows governors, if empowered by state legislatures, to appoint a replacement and set a date for a special election to choose a successor to serve for the remainder of the term.

The Constitution provides that the Senate "shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members."