Succession And The West Virginia Senate Seat
Last night, Nate Silver laid out the West Virginia law that governs the selection and/or election of Senator Byrd’s successor:
Byrd’s current term expires on January 3, 2013. Under West Virginia state law on handling Senate vacancies, “if the vacancy occurs less than two years and six months before the end of the term, the Governor appoints someone to fill the unexpired term and there is no election”. Otherwise, Manchin would appoint an interim replacement, and an special election would be held in November to determine who held the seat in 2011 and 2012.
In other words, we are within a week of the threshold established by West Virginia law. If a vacancy were to be declared on July 3rd or later, there would not be an election to replace Byrd until 2012. If it were to occur earlier, there could potentially be an election later this year, although there might be some ambiguities arising from precisely when and how the vacancy were declared.
This is confirmed by the West Virginia Secretary of State:
If the vacancy occurs less than two years and six months before the end of the term, the Governor appoints someone to fill the unexpired term and there is no election. If the vacancy occurs two years and six months or more before the end of the term, the Governor appoints someone to serve until the unexpired term is filled at the conclusion of the next candidate filing period, Primary Election, General Election and certification. The winner of that General Election fills the balance of the unexpired term. The election for the full term will be held as scheduled regardless of the date of the vacancy.
So it would seem to be pretty clear, right ? Since Byrd died before July 3rd, West Virginia’s Governor is empowered to appoint a replacement that will serve through the end of the years, and must declare an election for November to fill the remainder of Byrd’s term.
Marc Ambinder seems to suggest not:
The only ambiguity here is when Manchin officially declares a “vacancy” in the seat; if he does so after July 3 somehow, then his hand-chosen replacement could serve through 2012.
When you read the relevant statute, though, it doesn’t appear to give the Governor the power to declare when a vacancy occurs, and the logical conclusion would seem to be that the vacancy occurred on Byrd’s death. This is something of a significant issue since it’s widely expected that Shelly Moore Caputo, who has represented West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District since 2001, would throw her hat in the ring for the seat. Caputo would likely have a good shot a winning in what is shaping up to be a Republican year.