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Robert Byrd ‘Seriously Ill’: A Brief Discussion About W. Virginia Senate Seat Rules; Update: Byrd Dies

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By Doug Powers  •  June 27, 2010 09:37 PM

**Written by guest-blogger Doug Powers

You may have heard today that West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd has been hospitalized and is described as “seriously ill.”

Byrd isn’t up for re-election until 2012, but because the 2010 and 2012 elections will probably carry even more weight than usual as to the ultimate direction of the country, I was curious about West Virginia’s election law in the event Byrd is unable to continue serving out the remainder of his term.

In West Virginia, the governor, in this case Democrat Joe Manchin, would appoint someone to fill Byrd’s seat. At that point, what happens next boils down to a matter of dates that are rapidly approaching.

The West Virginia Secretary of State’s website spells out the rules:

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.

Steve Kornacki at Salon breaks down the dates:

As others have noted, the key date here is July 3 — next Saturday. Under West Virginia law, were a vacancy to be declared before then, an appointee would hold the seat through this November, when a special election would be held to fill the final two years on the term Byrd was elected to in 2006. The winner of that special election would presumably seek a full term in 2012. Were a vacancy to be declared after July 3, an appointee would hold the seat through the 2012 election, when the full six-year term would be up.

Kornacki also notes that the governor who would be making the appointment if Byrd is unable to continue has national political ambitions. Read Kornacki’s piece for a little more about what Governor Manchin might do.

A glance at Byrd’s laundry list of missed votes since late March is evidence that his Senate seat has in fact been mostly vacant for some time, so the odds that the seat would be declared “vacant” by next Saturday no matter what happens are very slim indeed — Especially if it behooves the Democrats to wait.

I wish Senator Byrd well. Lord knows I’ve disagreed with his politics and made more than a few cracks at his expense, but I never wish ill upon anybody, so I hope things turn out okay.

Update: In comments, ITookTheRedPill points out something I overlooked: Byrd is also President Pro-Tempore of the Senate. Third in line to the presidency — not that any person appointed as his successor would inherit that, of course.

Update II: The NY Times is reporting that Byrd has died.

Politico has more concerning West Virginia’s “murky” law governing how and when Byrd’s replacement will be chosen.

**Written by guest-blogger Doug Powers

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