The rules are a bit complicated.
Most news reports have focused on California Governor Gavin Newsom’s pledge to appoint a caretaker Black woman to fill the seat of the just-departed Dianne Feinstein ahead of the 2024 election. San Francisco’s KQED (“Here’s why you’re likely to vote 4 times on Feinstein’s replacement“) notes that it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Senator Dianne Feinstein’s death late Thursday comes as the campaign to replace her is already underway – and puts Gov. Gavin Newsom in the hot seat as he weighs who to pick as her replacement.
But whomever Newsom chooses, they probably won’t be in Washington, D.C. for too long. Voters will be asked next November to choose someone to finish out the final months of Feinstein’s term.
On the same ballot, California voters will also pick a candidate to fill the seat for the full term that begins January 3, 2025. Feinstein announced in February that she wouldn’t run for reelection in 2024, setting off a race for that seat.
Newsom has promised to appoint a Black woman to the seat left vacant by Feinstein’s death. He has not indicated who he will choose. But earlier this month he made clear that he will not name Oakland Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who is running along with Orange County Representative Katie Porter and Los Angeles Congressman Adam Schiff.
That means Newsom’s appointee would promise to serve as a caretaker – and would likely step down after the November 2024 election.
So, California voters will likely vote four times over the next year on Feinstein’s Senate seat: Twice in the March primary, and twice in November. The special and regular Senate elections will appear next to each other on the ballot.
The winner of the special election will serve for less than a month: from when the election is certified in December 2024 until the new Senate term begins in January 2025. The winner of the regular Senate election will serve a six-year term beginning in January 2025.
Presumably, since the same voters will take part in the primaries and elections, this is mostly procedural. I can’t imagine why they would select a different person for the interim job than the permanent one.