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Lawsuit seeks to postpone Oklahoma’s special election for Inhofe's U.S. Senate seat

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Dylan Goforth / The Frontier
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Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla).

An attorney has filed a lawsuit at the Oklahoma Supreme Court to delay a special election for U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s seat until 2024.

Enid attorney Stephen Jones filed the suit late Monday afternoon against Oklahoma State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax. The lawsuit claims it is unlawful for the state to call an election until the after seat is officially vacant under the 17th Amendment of the U.S Constitution.

In an interview, Jones said he believes Gov. Kevin Stitt should appoint a new U.S. Senator or Inhofe should remain in office until the end of his term.

“I think this is a violation of the Constitution,” Jones said. “It is an example of the state making unconstitutional election rules.”

The election board, Inhofe’s staff and the Governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment from The Frontier.

The 17th Amendment states governors should call special elections to fill vacancies in the U.S. Senate when they occur. Jones argues that Stitt can’t call a special election to fill the seat until Inhofe officially leaves office.

Jones said he’s suing because there is “no such thing as an irrevocable letter of resignation” and nothing prevents Inhofe from walking back the resignation if his choice of successor — former chief of staff Luke Holland — doesn’t win the seat in November.

“Senator Inhofe is still free to change his mind and remain in office through the date his term expires in January 2027,” the lawsuit claims.

Jones argues Inhofe’s seat will not become vacant until Jan 3, 2023 “at the earliest” and another election for the seat can’t take place until 2024.

The lawsuit claims Stitt does not have the authority to call a special election because federal law supersedes a new state law enacted last year. The state law says Oklahoma should call a special election in an election year if a Senator issues an irrevocable resignation before March 1.

A special election to fill a resigning U.S. Senator’s seat is not without precedent in Oklahoma. Back in 2014, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn announced he would resign at the end of the congressional session, leaving two years remaining on his term. Then-Gov. Mary Fallin called a special election while Coburn was still in office, leading to the election of Sen. James Lankford. Coburn officially resigned in January of 2015, and Lankford took office.

The Frontier is a nonprofit newsroom that produces fearless journalism with impact in Oklahoma. Read more at www.readfrontier.org.

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