New law may be needed to fill Inslee’s seat this year

A new state law may be required to ensure the winner of a special election to replace U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee is seated in the U.S. House of Representatives this year.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said Thursday evening she’s exploring the need to pass a bill in the special session to resolve differences between state law and federal practices.

The conflict centers on who gets to vote in the special election – those living in the old boundaries of the 1st Congressional District or the new ones created through redistricting.

Washington law says elections for seats in the state Legislature and U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 are to be held in the new boundaries.

But the U.S. House will only seat a replacement for Inslee in December if that person wins a special election in the district’s old boundaries.

Gregoire is trying to figure out if the state can simply do that or needs legislation to deal with circumstances never envisioned by lawmakers.

“I don’t know yet,” Gregoire said. “That’s why I am still working on it. That’s why I’m not done.”

She said she may have an answer today.

A special election would appear on the same ballots as this year’s regularly scheduled primary and general elections. The top two vote getters in the August primary would advance to November with the winner eligible to take office Dec. 6 when results are certified.

Elections officials aren’t excited about conducting a special election. They are concerned voters could be confused by seeing two congressional contests on their ballots – and in some communities it would be two elections for the same 1st Congressional District seat.

But Gregoire said the state needs the seat filled as Congress will likely deal with several issues important to Washington in December including allowing residents a sales tax deduction on federal income tax returns.

Inslee, a Democrat, resigned earlier this month to campaign full-time for governor against Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna. His term runs through early January 2013 when the new Congress is seated.

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