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September 25, 2002

For More Information, Contact:
Kristina Loquist at (650) 688-6384


SACRAMENTO – If highjacked Flight 93 had reached the U.S. Capitol building last September and killed a substantial portion of Congress, it would have taken about 6-7 months to conduct the elections necessary to restore that body to full strength. Now, however, Assembly Bill 2760, authored by Assemblyman Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) and signed by the Governor, will provide California with an expedited elections process for members of the House of Representatives. Simitian’s bill provides for expedited elections if 25% of the United States House of Representatives or the California delegation is killed, missing, or disabled.

Simitian said, “AB 2760 is about being prepared for any contingency. If a natural disaster or act of war incapacitates a quarter of the House of Representatives or California’s delegation, we need to be able to respond quickly. Just weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks the U.S. had gone to war in Afganistan, passed the USA Patriot Act, and made important budget decisions with long term impacts on our state and nation.”

“In the event of a terrorist attack or an act of war,” said Simitian, “I want to ensure California’s interests remain represented. More than that, though, I think it is important to send a message to our enemies and allies alike that our democracy remains strong in a time of crisis.”

As Simitian notes, “In the event of such a catastrophic act, the ability to convene a working Congress in a timely fashion may prove critical to national security, public confidence, and/or economic recovery. An established, expedited election process for the House of Representatives will help to ensure a functional federal government in the aftermath of a natural disaster or act of war.”
Under existing State law vacancies in the House of Representatives are filled by special election, which takes about four months. A runoff election can add an additional two months to that process. Under the above described circumstances, AB 2760 allows the Governor 7 days in which to issue a resolution calling for an election and provides County Registrars of Voters about 60 days in which to prepare for and actually hold an election. There would not be a run-off election; the top vote getter in the expedited election would simply be declared the winner.

“These tight timelines reflect the necessity for prompt action given the severe loss of life that triggers AB 2760,” said Simitian. “One of the lessons we learned after the September 11 terrorist attacks is that, in the aftermath of a catastrophic event, having processes in place to ensure the continuity of government can help maintain order, allow for a quick response and sustain public confidence. My hope, of course, is that this new law is never heard of again. But we now know that there are dark possibilities we not only have to consider, but plan for.”

Simitian offered his plan in the face of a vigorous national debate regarding the need for an amendment to the United States Constitution to address concerns about the continuity of Congress in the aftermath of a terrorist attack or act of war. Because of the speculation that Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, may have been headed for the Capitol building in Washington D.C., there has been substantial concern that the ability to ensure a full-strength, functioning Congress may be threatened absent a change in law.

Washington lawmakers have focussed on the possibility of a Constitutional amendment, but that, notes Simitian, is a process that could take “several years, if it ever were accomplished.”  Simitian observed that the Constitution hasn’t been amended since 1992, and that the most recent amendment had been the subject of consideration for more than 200 years.