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The passing of Sen. Byrd and the filling of his seat

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.), the longest-serving senator in the history of the United States, has died. For more than 50 years he represented the people of the Mountain State. And he did so with gusto, bringing billions of federal dollars to the folks back home. Byrd won't be forgotten in West Virginia (especially since his name adorns more than a few buildings, highways, parks, etc.) or in the Senate, where his mastery of the body's arcane rules made him a leader.

But once again we might be confronted with a rather undemocratic process for ensuring that West Virginia is fully represented. There's a possibility that the people of the state won't choose who will fill out the remainder of Byrd's term. State law does not require a special election if a vacancy is declared "less than two years and six months before the end of the term." According to Nate Silver at, July 3 is the magic date for this provision to kick in. He also notes that when and how that vacancy must be declared is ambiguous. If it is declared on July 3 or later, the honor of choosing Byrd's successor will come down to one person -- Gov. Joe Manchin (D).

The Constitution only requires special elections for vacancies in the House of Representatives. Senate replacements are selected by the governor. And as we have seen over the last two years, gubernatorial appointment can bring out the worst in the hands of those with the power to use it. Because Manchin is all but certain to appoint a Democrat to serve in Byrd's seat until 2012, there's no danger of the balance of power changing in the Senate. And given that Democrats control the levers of power in the state, it's not unreasonable to think that the voters would send a Democrat to Washington in a special election. But at least they would have had a say in who represents them.

By Jonathan Capehart  | June 28, 2010; 7:59 AM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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But doesn't the term end in January 2013, just before the new Congress is sworn in? Seems like fertile ground for a populist upswell if Manchin makes the pick.

Posted by: bigolpoofter | June 28, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

The US Constitution states the end of the term is noon on the 3rd day in January. Anytime after noon on July 3rd would leave less than 2 years and six months.

We will see what games are played when declaring a vacancy.

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | June 28, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

The conventional wisdom in West Virginia has for years been that any governor in office when Byrd passed away would appoint himself to the unexpired term and thus be set up to run as an inumbent. It will be interesting to see whether Joe Manchin - who cannot run for a third term - makes the prediction come true.

Posted by: darrellcochran | June 28, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Rest lightly upon him gentle Earth;
His trail was heavy of Pork on thee.

Posted by: eddwh | June 28, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Unless Martin forgets or does not understand that his job is keep the status quo in WV i.e. more strip mining, low wages and gambling he should be a shoe-in.
Byrd was a pure racist who towards the end of life started to almost get a conscience. Not hard to envision that he was signing stuff right up to the end.

Posted by: KBlit | June 28, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Dead is dead and the date is the date...

Any games played will be illegal....which never stopped a democrat

Have a vote or rot

Posted by: georgedixon1 | June 28, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

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