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Jerry Cornfield | jcornfield@heraldnet.com
Published: Thursday, March 15, 2012, 5:45 p.m.

Inslee exit may make it possible to serve in Congress for a month

The pending resignation of U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee from Congress is causing an unanticipated headache for state election officials.

They've got to decide how long to leave his 1st Congressional District seat vacant.

Their decision could create a rare opportunity for someone to serve in Congress for as little time as a month -- and stir up a lot of confusion too because it would mean holding two elections at the same time for the same seat in Congress.

Ordinarily, when there is an unfinished term, the November election serves the dual purpose of picking someone to fill the remainder of the term and the new one as well. This allows the winner to take office in December when results are certified and not have to wait until January.

So, this year, the state could put someone in Inslee's seat as quick as Dec. 6.

Here's the wrinkle. To do that, it must conduct an election within the boundaries of the existing congressional district. That's because as far as the U.S. House of Representatives is concerned, the new borders drawn up through redistricting are not in effect until 2013.

If this happened, the victor would only serve a month as they finish out the last days of Inslee's term.

Meanwhile, the state will hold an election in the newly designed 1st Congressional District. Whoever wins in November will be sworn into office in January for a full two-year term.

It's a dilemma for the state. Leaving the seat vacant until 2013 means one election but there are those who argue the district should not be without representation any longer than it needs to be. To accomplish that would precipitate electing two people.

“We're looking at the logistics for the candidates and we're concerned about the potential of confusion for voters and the public,” said Katie Blinn, co-director of state elections.

Interestingly any or all the candidates vying to replace Inslee could run for the short-term seat even if they do not live in the current congressional district. Federal law doesn't require U.S. House candidates to live in the district they serve.

Secretary of State Sam Reed has made no decisions, and the office is consulting with the governor's legal counsel and others, according to his spokesman David Ammons. A decision is expected next week.

Inslee is leaving March 20 to campaign full-time for governor.

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