United States Senate
United States Senate Senators HomeCommittees HomeLegislation & Records HomeArt & History HomeVisitor Center HomeReference Home
United States Senate
Origins & Development
Historical Minutes
Art & History Exhibits
Decorative Art
Graphic Arts
Oral History Homepage

Contested Senate Elections

The U.S. Constitution gives each house of Congress the power to be the judge of the "elections, returns, and qualifications of its members." Since 1789, the Senate has closely guarded this prerogative, and has developed its own procedures for judging the qualifications of its members in contested elections.

Originally, senators were elected by the state legislatures. The Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1913, established direct popular election of senators. Under both the new and the old system, the Constitution permits state governors to make temporary appointments to fill Senate vacancies.

Election disputes reviewed by the Senate have fallen into several general categories. During the sectional conflicts prior to the Civil War, and in the war's aftermath as former Confederate states rejoined the Union, questions arose regarding the state legislatures' legal authority to elect. Later in the 19th century and into the early 20th century, corrupt use of money in elections became an issue. Since 1913, campaign expenditures, demands for recounts in close elections, and complaints of election irregularities or fraud have constituted the dominant issues.

Election Laws 
Senate Procedure in Contested Elections
Types of Election Cases

StateContestantsDate ResolvedResult
1826NJEphraim BatemanMay 22, 1828Retained Seat
1833RIAsher Robbins v. Elisha R. PotterMay 27, 1834Robbins Retained Seat
1851FLStephen R. Mallory v. David L. YuleeAug 27, 1852Mallory Retained Seat
1855IAJames Harlan1Jan. 12, 1857Unseated
1856PASimon CameronMar 13, 1857Seated
1857INGraham Fitch v. William M. McCarty; Jesse Bright v. Henry S. LaneFeb 14, 1859Fitch & Bright Seated
1865NJJohn P. StocktonMar 27, 1865Unseated
1867KSSamuel PomeroyMar 24, 1873Not Expelled; Term Ended
NCMatt W. Ransom v. Joseph C. AbbottApr 24, 1872Ransom Seated
1871ALGeorge GoldthwaiteJan 15, 1872Seated
1871KSAlexander Caldwell2Mar 24, 1873Not Expelled; Resigned
1873MOLewis V. BogyMar 25, 1873Retained Seat
1877ORLa Fayette GroverJune 15, 1878Retained Seat
1879KSJohn J. IngallsFeb 17, 1880Retained Seat
1881NYWarner Miller; Elbridge G. LaphamDec 13, 1881Retained Seats
1884OHHenry B. PayneJuly 23, 1886Retained Seat
1887INDavid TurpieMay 15, 1888Retained Seat
IDFred T. Dubois v. William H. ClagettMar 3, 1892Dubois Retained Seat
1891FLWilkinson Call v. R. H. M. DavidsonFeb 4, 1892Call Retained Seat
1893KSJohn Martin v. Joseph W. AdyJan 31, 1895Martin Retained Seat
1895DEHenry A. du PontMar 1, 1897Not Seated
1897DERichard R. Kenney v. John E. AddicksFeb 5, 1897Kenney Seated
1897OHMarcus A. HannaFeb 28, 1899Retained Seat
1899WVNathan B. Scott v. John T. McGraw et al.Mar 20, 1900Scott Retained Seat
MTWilliam A. Clark3Mar 4, 1901Resigned
1908MDJohn W. SmithMar 26, 1908Seated
1909ILWilliam LorimerJuly 13, 1912Unseated
1907WIIsaac StephensonMar 27, 1912Retained Seat
1911WVClarence Watson; William E. ChiltonFeb 11, 1913Retained Seats
Direct Election
1913MDBlair Lee v. William P. JacksonJan 28, 1914Lee Seated
1916WVHoward Sutherland v. William E. ChiltonJune 29, 1918Sutherland Retained Seat
1918MITruman H. Newberry v. Henry FordJan 12, 1922Retained Seat; later resigned
1922TXEarle B. Mayfield v. George E.B. PeddyFeb 3, 1925Mayfield Retained Seat
1924MNThomas D. Schall v. Magnus JohnsonMar 4, 1925Schall Retained Seat
1924NMSam G. Bratton v. Holm O. BursumMar 4, 1925Bratton Retained Seat
1924IADaniel F. Steck v. Smith W. Brookhart4Apr 30, 1926Brookhart: Unseated
Steck: Seated
1926PAWilliam S. Vare v. William B. WilsonDec 6, 1929Both Not Seated
1926ILFrank L. SmithJan 19, 1928Not Seated
1930ALJohn H. Bankhead v. J. Thomas HeflinApr 28, 1932Bankhead Retained Seat
1930MNThomas D. Schall v. Einar HoidaleJan 17, 1933Schall Retained Seat
1930NCJosiah W. Bailey v. George M. PritchardFeb 3, 1933Bailey Retained Seat
1934NMBronson Cutting v. Dennis Chavez5June 4, 1935Cutting Died; Chavez Appointed
1938TNTom StewartMar 31, 1939Retained Seat
1938INFrederick Van Nuys v. Raymond E. WillisApr 13, 1939Van Nuys Retained Seat
1942TNTom StewartFeb 25, 1943Retained Seat
1946MSTheodore G. Bilbo---6Bilbo Died
1946MDHerbert R. O'Conor v. D. John MarkeyMay 20, 1948O'Conor Retained Seat
1946WVHarley M. Kilgore v. Tom SweeneyJuly 28, 1949Kilgore Retained Seat
1948MIHomer Ferguson v. Frank E. HookJuly 28, 1949Ferguson Retained Seat
1950MDJohn M Butler v. Millard E. TydingsAug 20, 1951Butler Retained Seat
1952NMDennis Chavez v. Patrick J. HurleyMar 23, 1954Chavez Retained Seat
1970INR. Vance Hartke v. Richard L. RoudebushJuly 24, 1972Hartke Retained Seat
1974NHJohn Durkin v. Louis C. Wyman7Sep 16, 1975Seat Declared Vacant; New Election Held
1974OKHenry L. Bellmon v. Edmond A. EdmondsonMar 4, 1976Bellmon Retained Seat
1996LAMary Landrieu v. Louis "Woody" JenkinsOct 1, 1997Landrieu Retained Seat
2008MNNorm Coleman v. Al Franken8June 30, 2009Franken  Seated

1. Seat was declared vacant, but Harlan was immediately reelected and seated.
2. Resigned before Senate could vote to void election.
3. Resigned; reelected the next year and seated.
4. Brookhart was initially seated but was later unseated by the Senate and Steck seated in his place. This is the only occasion to date in which the Senate has actually reversed the results of an election, unseated a senator, and seated the challenger.
5. Cutting died May 6, 1935; on June 4, 1935, the Senate agreed with a committee recommendation to dismiss the contest. Chavez was appointed to fill the vacancy.

6. Bilbo died on August 21, 1947, before the Senate reached a decision.
7. This contest ended in deadlock; a new election was held.

6. Bilbo died on August 21, 1947, before the Senate reached a decision.
8. Following a long contest over the election, including a lengthy recount of ballots, the Minnesota state supreme court decided the election in Franken’s favor. Franken took the oath of office on July 7, 2009.

Source: U.S., Congress, Senate, Senate Election, Expulsion, and Censure Cases from 1793 to 1972, S. Doc. 92-7, 92d Cong., 1st sess., 1972.



E-mail a Senate historian

Information provided by the Senate Historical Office.

Questions about Senate History?
Email a Senate historian.