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Texplainer: What Happens to Gallegos' Senate Seat?

State Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, died Tuesday, but his name will still appear on the November ballot. What happens to his seat — and how soon his district will have representation in the Senate — is in the hands of Gov. Rick Perry.

By Maurice Chammah, The Marshall Project
Texas state Sen. Mario Gallegos (D-Houston) is shown in the Texas Senate chamber on May 4, 2011.


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Hey, Texplainer: What will happen to the state Senate seat of Mario Gallegos, who passed away on Tuesday?

State Sen. Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, died Tuesday as a result of complications from a liver transplant several years ago.

Because he died fewer than 74 days before the general election, his name will still appear on the ballot, according to state election laws.

If Gallegos’ opponent, Republican R.W. Bray, is elected, he will take the seat. But Gallegos is heavily favored to win in the district, where President Obama took 63.5 percent of the vote in 2008.

If the late senator wins, his seat will be declared vacant after the election. Gov. Rick Perry will then have to call a special election to fill the seat, and after he does that, an election will be held within 21 to 45 days, on a Tuesday or Saturday.

If nobody receives the majority of the vote in the special election, Perry will call a runoff election for the two candidates who receive the most votes, to be held within 12 to 25 days of his declaration. Depending on how long it takes to certify the results, whether the first round or the runoff, this means that a senator could be announced as soon as January 2013, and sworn in as late as April — near the end of the legislative session.

By waiting to call the special election, Perry could effectively guarantee that the constituents of Gallegos' district do not have a senator representing them during the upcoming legislative session.

In 2006, Republican state Rep. Glenda Dawson passed away in September, shortly before the election. Perry called for an expedited election, meaning that her replacement, another Republican, was seated in time for the session. In 2005, after the death of state Rep. Joe Moreno, Perry faced criticism for waiting to call the special election to replace him until after two special sessions, where Moreno's successor's Democratic vote may have had an effect.

The bottom line: Gallegos' name will still appear on the ballot in November, and if he wins, Perry will call a special election to fill his seat. By waiting to call an election, though, Perry could effectively deprive Gallegos' Democratic district of a vote in the Senate during next year's legislative session.

Editor's Note: This story has been corrected to reflect that a senator could be announced as soon as January 2013. An earlier version incorrectly stated that announcement could come as early as February.  


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