West Virginia Secretary of State: Special Election for Byrd’s Seat Will Be in 2012
West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie E. Tennant announced this afternoon that a special election to fill the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D) seat will occur in 2012 — on the same day, in fact, as the general election for a new senator to hold the seat for a full six-year term. The special election winner will hold the seat for only five weeks, until the general election winner takes office. It’s unclear at this point, given the peculiar situation, whether the same candidates can and will run in the special and general elections.
In the meantime, a replacement will be appointed by Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat.
Tennant noted that state election law on succession is murky. Here is her explanation, from a statement emailed to me by the state secretary of state’s press office:
“Section 3-10-3 states that for terms with more than two years and six months remaining, such as this one with Senator Byrd, the Governor will appoint a replacement who serves the unexpired term until a successor has been elected.
“But that election will not be the 2010 General election. Part of this same section of code, requires the candidate to have filed during the filing period. That filing period has already passed. There was a legal case in 1994 decided by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals that up held that position of requiring candidates to file during the filing period.
“That means the election for the unexpired term would be the next election cycle which would take place in 2012. Candidates will be nominated in the primary and elected in the general of 2012.
“That brings up an interesting situation. Because Senator Byrd’s seat would have been up for re-election in 2012, both the position for the unexpired term and full term will be on the ballot at the same time but are separate races. In fact it will be two separate elections. With the unexpired race being a special election because it would otherwise not have been on the ballot.
“The winner of the unexpired term would serve out the final five weeks or so until the new term of Congress starts in January of 2013. Had Senator Byrd’s term not run out in 2012 there would not have been this unique situation. It would have just been for the unexpired term.”
Though Manchin has not indicated when he will appoint someone to fill the vacancy, speculation on his choice has already begun. Manchin has apparently already taken himself out of the running, though signs point to his running in 2012. Possible appointment candidates include former state Democratic Party chair Nick Casey and current chair Larry Puccio. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) and former Secretary of State Betty Ireland (R) are likely candidates in a special election.