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About Electing and Appointing Senators | Contested Senate Elections

The U.S. Constitution gives each house of Congress the power to be the judge of the "elections, returns, and qualifications of its members." Since 1789 the Senate has closely guarded this prerogative and has developed procedures for judging the qualifications of its members in contested elections.

The Senate may conduct an investigation when a losing candidate presents a petition challenging the conduct or outcome of an election, or when a sitting senator introduces a resolution to contest an election. The contest may relate to the actual conduct of the election (such as vote counts or electoral irregularities) or electoral misconduct by the candidates or their supporters. When such a petition or resolution is offered, the Senate may accept the election credentials of a senator-elect and choose to seat him or her without prejudice. If a subsequent investigation indicates no wrongdoing, the senator remains in office. If the investigation determines that the election challenge is supported by the evidence, the senator could be excluded from the Senate by a simple majority vote. Most, but not all, of these cases are referred to a committee to review the case and make a recommendation to the full Senate.

The table below presents a selection of contested Senate election cases. Election disputes reviewed by the Senate fall into several general categories. During the sectional conflicts prior to the Civil War, and in the war's aftermath as former Confederate states regained representation in the U.S. Congress, questions arose regarding the state legislatures' legal authority to elect. Later in the 19th century and into the early 20th century, corruption in campaign financing became an issue. Since ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, establishing direct popular election of senators, most contested elections have been linked to campaign expenditures, demands for recounts in close elections, or complaints of election irregularities or fraud.

Note: After 1913 senators are elected by direct popular vote.

Election YearStateContestantsDate ResolvedResult
1826 NJ Ephraim Bateman May 22, 1828 Retained Seat
1833 RI Asher Robbins v. Elisha R. Potter May 27, 1934 Robbins Retained Seat
1851 FL Stephen R. Mallory v. David L. Yulee Aug 27, 1852 Mallory Retained Seat
1855 IA James Harlan1 Jan 12, 1957 Unseated
1856 PA Simon Cameron Mar 13, 1857 Seated
1857 IN Graham Fitch v. William M. McCarty; Jesse Bright v. Henery S. Lane Feb 14, 1859 Fitch & Bright Seated
1865 NJ John P. Stockton Mar 27, 1865 Unseated
1867 KS Samuel Pomeroy Mar 24, 1873 Not Expelled; Term Ended
1870/1872 NC Matt W. Ransom v. Joseph C. Abbott Apr 24, 1872 Ransom Seated
1871 AL George Goldthwaite Jan 15, 1872 Seated
1871 KS Alexander Caldwell2 Mar 24, 1873 Not Expelled; Resigned
1873 MO Lewis v. Bogy Mar 25, 1873 Retained Seat
1877 OR La Fayette Grover Jun 15, 1878 Retained Seat
1879 KS John J. Ingalls Feb 17, 1880 Retained Seat
1881 NY Warner Miller; Elbridge G. Lapham Dec 13, 1881 Retained Seats
1884 OH Henry B. Payne Jul 23, 1886 Retained Seat
1887 IN David Turpie May 15, 1888 Retained Seat
1890/91 ID Fred T. Dubois v. William H. Clagett Mar 3, 1892 Dubois Retained Seat
1891 FL Wilkinson Call v. R. H. M. Davidson Feb 4, 1892 Call Retained Seat
1893 KS John Martin v. Joseph W. Ady Jan 31, 1895 Martin Retained Seat
1895 DE Henry A. du Pont Mar 1, 1897 Not Seated
1897 DE Richard R. Kenney v. John E. Addicks Feb 5, 1897 Kenney Seated
1897 OH Marcus A. Hanna Feb 28, 1899 Retained Seat
1899 WV Nathan B. Scott v. John T. McGraw, et al. Mar 20, 1900 Scott Retained Seat
1899/1901 MT William A. Clark3 Mar 4, 1901 Resigned
1908 MD John W. Smith Mar 26, 1908 Seated
1909 IL William Lorimer Jul 13, 1912 Unseated
1907 WI Isaac Stephenson Mar 27, 1912 Retained Seat
1911 WV Clarence Watson; William E. Chilton Feb 11, 1913 Retained Seats
1913 MD Blair Lee v. William P. Jackson Jan 28, 1914 Lee Seated
1916 WV Howard Sutherland v. William E. Chilton Jun 29, 1918 Sutherland Retained Seat
1918 MI Truman H. Newberry v. Henry Ford Jan 12, 1922 Retained Seat; later resigned
1922 TX Earle B. Mayfield v. George E. B. Peddy Feb 3, 1925 Mayfield Retained Seat
1924 MN Thomas D. Schall v. Magnus Johnson Mar 4, 1925 Schall Retained Seat
1924 NM Sam G. Bratton v. Holm O. Bursum Mar 4, 1925 Bratton Retained Seat
1924 IA Daniel F. Steck v. Smith W. Brookhart4 Apr 30, 1926 Brookhart: Unseated; Steck: Seated
1926 PA William S. Vare v. William B. Wilson Dec 6, 1929 Both Not Seated
1926 IL Frank L. Smith Jan 19, 1928 Not Seated
1930 AL John H. Bankhead v. J. Thomas Heflin Apr 28, 1932 Bankhead Retained Seat
1930 MN Thomas D. Schall v. Einar Hoidale Jan 17, 1933 Schall Retained Seat
1930 NC Josiah E. Bailey v. George M. Pritchard Feb 3, 1933 Bailey Retained Seat
1934 NM Bronson Cutting v. Dennis Chavez5 Jun 4, 1935 Cutting Died; Chavez Appointed
1938 TN Tom Steward Mar 31, 1939 Retained Seat
1938 IN Frederick Van Nuys v. Raymond E. Willis Apr 13, 1939 Van Nuys Retained Seat
1942 TN Tom Stewart Mar 31, 1939 Retained Seat
1946 MS Theodore G. Bilbo -- 6 Bilbo Died
1946 MD Herbert R. O'Conor v. D. John Markey May 20, 1948 O'Conor Retained Seat
1946 WV Harley M. Kilgore v. Tom Sweeney Jul 28, 1949 Kilgore Retained Seat
1948 MI Homer Ferguson v. Frank E. Hook Jul 28, 1949 Ferguson Retained Seat
1950 MD John M. Butler v. Millard E. Tydings Aug 20, 1951 Butler Retained Seat
1952 NM Dennis Chavez v. Patrick J. Hurley Mar 23, 1954 Chavez Retained Seat
1970 IN R. Vance Hartke v. Richard L. Roudebush Jul 24, 1972 Hartke Retained Seat
1974 NH John Durkin v. Louis C. Wyman7 Sep 16, 1975 Seat Declared Vacant; New Election Held
1974 OK Henry L. Bellmon v. Edmond A. Edmondson Mar 4, 1976 Bellmon Retained Seat
1996 LA Mary Landrieu v. Louis "Woody" Jenkins Oct 1, 1997 Landrieu Retained Seat
2008 MN Norm Coleman v. Al Franken 8 Jun 30, 2009 Franken Seated

1. Seat was declared vacant, but Harlan was immediately reelected and seated.

2. Resigned before Senate could vote to void election.

3. Resigned; reelected the next year and seated.

4. Brookhart was initially seated but was later unseated by the Senate and Steck seated in his place. This is the only occasion to date in which the Senate has actually reversed the results of an election, unseated a senator, and seated the challenger.

5. Cutting died May 6, 1935; on June 4, 1935, the Senate agreed with a committee recommendation to dismiss the contest. Chavez was appointed to fill the vacancy.

6. Bilbo died on August 21, 1947, before the Senate reached a decision.

7. This contest ended in deadlock; a new election was held.

8. Following a long contest over the election, including a lengthy recount of ballots, the Minnesota state supreme court decided the election in Franken?s favor. Franken took the oath of office on July 7, 2009.

Source: U.S., Congress, Senate, Senate Election, Expulsion, and Censure Cases from 1793 to 1972, S. Doc. 92-7, 92nd Cong., 1st sess., 1972.