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High-Stakes Lottery Will Land New Members in Capitol Hill Offices

While many newly elected say they are just happy to be here, choice real estate is at stake

Members-elect will draw chips Friday to determine which office space they’ll get for next year. Two years ago, Lisa Blunt Rochester, seen here, was fairly pleased with her number. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Members-elect will draw chips Friday to determine which office space they’ll get for next year. Two years ago, Lisa Blunt Rochester, seen here, was fairly pleased with her number. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Every two years, the office lottery that closes out new member orientation becomes a delicate game of chance that will determine who gets choice workspace — and who must toil in the congressional badlands.

Each newly elected House member will take their chance and pick a numbered chip as they’re called by their last names in alphabetical order. The traditional room lottery draw is run by the Architect of the Capitol House Superintendent’s Office and kicks off at 10:30 a.m. on Friday. The chip number corresponds to the order in which they can choose an office.

“I’m really trying to draw number one on Friday,” said Minnesota Democrat Angie Craig.

New Members of Congress Pick Their Office Via Lottery. Here’s How it Works

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She’ll have the competition of 99 of her freshman classmates hoping to pull that lucky number one slot, giving first pick of all the vacant offices.

The lottery chips are on display before the start of House office lottery for the newly elected members of Congress. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)
The lottery chips go on display before the start of the House office lottery for newly elected members of Congress. (Bill Clark/Roll Call file photo)

There’s a domino effect that frees up offices for newcomers. Returning members have already laid claim to choice real estate made available by resignations, retirements and lost elections. That leaves whatever space they’ve abandoned for the new class to fill.

Current Rep. Katherine M. Clark, a Massachusetts Democrat, is looking forward to moving into her new office on the fourth floor of the coveted Rayburn Building from her current space in Longworth.

A list of available offices, mostly in the Longworth and Cannon office buildings, is usually handed out at the beginning of the event. Most members-elect we talked to said they haven’t spent time during orientation scoping out potential office space.

Craig said she’s delegated office selection to aides ahead of the lottery. She’s spent her time instead on interviewing candidates for staff positions.

“Minnesota’s Tim Walz and Rick Nolan are no longer here, so I’m taking their folks,” she said.

The new members of Congress were quick to say they were happy to be working in the House in the first place.

“People are telling me, this building is better than that one and I’m like — either way, I’m on the Hill,” said Jahana Hayes, a Connecticut Democrat.

During the congressional office shakeup every two years, the House Chief Administrative Officer coordinates the move-out process with member offices and a number of other support offices. The CAO and the AOC then prepare the office for the new member, which usually includes a fresh coat of paint.

“If I don’t have a view, then I’ll put up a picture. If I don’t have a window, then I’ll put up a painting. So it’s whatever,” said Hayes.

“The way I look at it, I’m in Congress. They have to give me a desk. I’ve never been here before, so there is no bad office,” she said.

Wait until she sees some of the spaces in the Cannon Building. 

The 10 newly elected senators will get their offices in a much more subdued tradition, without the victory dances and shouting that the House lottery usually includes.

As with much of Senate business, seniority rules. For new senators, offices are picked by seniority, starting with the date a lawmaker is elected. For freshmen, the ranking is determined by previous government experience and then state population. The highest ranking goes — in descending order — to those with previous experience as a House member, Cabinet secretary and governor.

Prime office picks among incoming senators will go to former House members, including Kyrsten Sinema, Jacky Rosen and Marsha Blackburn, as they move across the Capitol. Former governors Rick Scott and Mitt Romney will also get a seniority boost among their colleagues. 

For new senators without those roles on their resume, seniority is determined by state population, from largest to smallest.

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