Whichever Democrat West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III (D) appoints to the state's now-vacant U.S. Senate seat will serve out the rest of the late Sen. Robert Byrd's term in office.

West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant held a news conference late Monday to clarify the succession process after a day of uncertainty. 

A reading of the state's election code suggested that were Byrd's seat to be declared vacant before July 3, a special election would have to take place to fill the remaining two years of his term. Declaring the seat vacant after July 3 would mean the interim senator would serve until January 2013.

The confusion arose from the code's wording. On succession, it read that if the unexpired term of office is for a longer period than two and a half years, "the appointment is until a successor to the office has timely filed a certificate of candidacy, has been nominated at the primary election next following such timely filing and has thereafter been elected and qualified to fill the unexpired term.”

"But that election will not be the 2010 general election," said Tennant. "Part of this same section of code requires the candidate to have filed during the filing period. That filing period has already passed."

Since the seat is not up for reelection until 2012, Tennant said that both the position for the unexpired term and full term will be on the ballot at the same time but as separate races. "In fact it will be two separate elections," she explained, "with the unexpired race being a special election because it would otherwise not have been on the ballot."