JEFFERSON CITY - Jo Ann Emerson's decision to retire Monday from the U.S. House of Representatives means Missouri's 8th District will need to hold a special election to fill her vacant seat.
The timing of her decision could cost Missourians hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars.
Emerson (R-Mo), who won re-election a month ago but now plans to retire in February, could leave counties in the 8th District scrambling if Gov. Jay Nixon chooses not to put the election on the April 2013 ballot. If he schedules the election for another date, each county would need to hold separate elections with only one ballot issue and pay for the costs of ballot printing, election judges, polling locations, absentee ballots and other expenses.
Emerson's 8th congressional district in Missouri includes 27 counties in the southeast portion of the state, and several county clerks offered rough estimates Friday for the cost of a separate special election. The state of Missouri reimburses each county for the elections, but the money ultimately falls on taxpayers across the state, no matter the congressional district. In larger counties such as Phelps and Cape Girardeau, the total cost could approach six figures combined. Phelps County Clerk Carol Bennett estimated a cost of $65,000 to $75,000 for a non-April special election, and Joey Keys in Cape Giradeau County estimated a similar total ranging from $60,000 to $65,000.
In Dent County, which consists of about 15,000 people, Angie Curley estimated a special election could cost anywhere from $10,000 to $12,000.
The constitution grants Gov. Nixon the power to schedule a special election. Press Secretary Scott Holste said the governor has no timetable on that decision, and he said a "number of things" factor into whether to hold an election in April or at another time. He would not specifically comment on whether Gov. Nixon would consider the cost of county elections in his decision.
KOMU 8 News contacted Jo Ann Emerson's office in Washington, D.C., and the office referred us to the email of a media contact. Jeffrey Connor declined to comment on possible costs of a special election for Emerson's seat.
"The special election will be set by the Governor of Missouri," Connor said in the email.
Emerson announced she will accept a position as president of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. According to OpenSecrets.org, NRECA is the largest contributing organization to Emerson's campaign fund since she joined Congress in 1996.
Emerson, who turned 62 in September, is now also eligible to collect a full and immediate pension under the Federal Employees' Retirement System. Federal employees of at least 62 years of age may collect the pension if they have five years of service. At age 50, employees become eligible for full and immediate pension with 20 years of service.
Connor said Emerson's pension was not a factor in her decision to retire.
Several county clerks gave KOMU 8 News rough estimates for special election costs in the 8th-district congressional race. If Gov. Nixon schedules that election on the April 2013 ballot, the figures will drop significantly. Some clerks were either out of the office on Friday or not comfortable giving figures yet, but here's a list compiling estimates from several county clerks. The list varies significantly depending on county population.
Cape Girardeau County: $60,000 to $65,000
Carter County: $10,000
Dent County: $10,00 to $12,000
New Madrid County: $27,000 to $30,000
Oregon County: $7,000
Perry County: $20,000
Phelps County: $65,000 to $75,000
Reynolds County: $15,000
Washington County: $10,000 to $15,000
Wayne County: $30,000
Wright County: $15,000