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2010 Special Election to Replace Byrd Moves Forward; Unemployment Benefits Extension May Result

Gov. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) can legally call a 2010 special election to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), state Attorney General Darrell McGraw (D) ruled today.

The ruling moves forward what has become a bipartisan push to move the election from 2012 to this year. Shortly after Byrd’s death last week, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D) announced that current state law only allowed for the election to occur in 2012. McGraw’s written opinion referenced the odd situation that would arise from delaying a special election until then.

In this case, the Secretary of State’s reading of [West Virginia election law] creates a situation which, while perhaps not absurd, would certainly be awkward and unintended: two elections in November 2012, one to fill a Senate vacancy of (by then) a few weeks, and another of a full term of office.

McGraw’s ruling contradicts earlier judicial rulings, meaning it could be challenged in court, The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake reports. There are no such challenges at this point. If the ruling were to get thrown out, Manchin could ask the state legislature to change the election laws as he announced during a presser yesterday. The AP reports that while McGraw ruled Manchin has the power to call for the earlier special election without legislative approval, the legislature will need to decide on filing deadlines and other related rules when it reconvenes later this month.

Manchin can now move forward with picking someone to temporarily replace Byrd in the Senate, as he said yesterday that he would wait to appoint someone until McGraw gave him legal guidance. This will undoubtedly ease the fears of national Democrats who believed further delays in the appointment process would stall passage of the long-delayed unemployment benefits extension. Representatives from the White House and Congress had apparently been pushing Manchin to move forward with all deliberate speed.

Updated at 5:12 p.m.

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