Studies in American Political Development


Partisanship and Contested Election Cases in the Senate, 1789–2002

Jeffery A. Jenkins a1
a1 Northwestern University

While the Founding Fathers included a number of checks and balances in the U.S. Constitution as a way of dispersing power across the various branches of the federal government, they made no such allowance regarding the internal makeup of Congress. Specifically, Article I, Section 5, Clause 1 of the Constitution states that “Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns, and Qualifications of its own Members. . . .” This clause, in effect, provides each chamber of Congress with the exclusive authority to determine how its membership will be comprised. Thus, when an election is contested, that is, when a dispute arises regarding who is the rightful occupant of a seat after all votes have been counted and a winner announced, the given chamber operates as the sole arbiter, insulated completely from Executive and Judicial pressures or constraints.