We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Special Election?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
America Explained is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At America Explained, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A special election is an election which is held to fill a seat which has become vacant between regular elections. This type of election may also be known as a by-election or bye-election, depending on the nation in which it is being held. Such elections can be costly to administer and they are usually not politically important, with a relatively low voter turnout being typical at special elections. However, sometimes a special election will provide a political opportunity and an upset can occur to change the balance of the political system.

There are a number of reasons why a special election might need to be held. An incumbent may die in office, for example, leaving a seat empty. An office holder may also resign, be forced out of office, or be recalled or impeached. It is also possible for someone in office to be appointed to a position with the government, in which case it is conventional to resign in many nations. For example, if the President of the United States names a United States Senator to a cabinet position, that Senator will need to leave the Senate to take the position.

Commonly, the result of a special election is that the party which held the seat before puts forward another candidate and this candidate wins the election, often by a large margin. However, sometimes rival parties take advantage of a special election to introduce a new candidate or to attempt to regain a seat. Sometimes a race for a seat can become hotly contested, especially if political discord and upset are already present. People may see a special election as an opportunity to comment with their votes on the activities of various political parties in these situations.

In advance of a special election, voters usually receive a voter information guide and a sample ballot so that they can prepare for the election. Regional newspapers often endorse candidates, and there may be opportunities to attend debates and other events such as town hall meetings which allow people to meet the candidates and learn more about their political positions. On election day, balloting may be done in polling places or via absentee ballot, depending on the region. Some communities attempt to save money on special elections by holding absentee balloting.

Special elections are sometimes treated as unimportant because the person who wins the seat will not serve a full term. However, once someone manages to gain a seat in an election, she or he can be difficult to dislodge, and may easily be reelected for an additional term. It is wise to pay attention to special elections and to vote even if it does not seem important.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon1000671 — On Nov 15, 2018

If it is this close to election day why hold a special election?? Most of the politicians do not work anyhow!! If you watch tv and watch what is going on in the state and congressional debates, most of the seats are empty!

By mrwormy — On Apr 09, 2014

My wife and I both serve as poll workers, and I've seen my share of special elections. Most of them are poorly attended, but occasionally there will be a controversial local issue that brings more people out to the polls. One year our city held a special election to replace a popular sheriff, and the voters weren't happy with the man the county wanted in that position. They mostly came out to vote "no", even though he was the only viable name on the special election ballot.

Considering how expensive it can be to hold a special election, I'd think the people in charge would hold off until the regular general elections in November. Apparently that's not the way the election laws read, however. Some temporary positions can't be appointed. Voters must be given the opportunity to voice their opinions with a vote.

By RocketLanch8 — On Apr 08, 2014

I remember we had a special election in our area a few years ago, but it wasn't to replace an elected official. According to state law, any changes to the state constitution's language had to be approved by voters. This meant the local election boards had to get out all of their voting equipment, set up the polling places and get the word out to voters in order to vote on one minor issue. I forget how many thousands of dollars the state and cities ended up paying for this special election, but the state leaders voted to eliminate that state law the very next year.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
America Explained, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

America Explained, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.