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 FiveThirtyEight.com, 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.
| June 28, 2010; 7:59 AM ET
Categories: Capehart | Tags: Jonathan Capehart
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