W.Va. attorney general says 2010 special election can happen

West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw (D) cleared the way for Gov. Joe Manchin (D) to call a November 2010 special election for the late Sen. Robert Byrd's (D-W.Va.) seat. 

The legal opinion McGraw issued Thursday did not give a specific timeline for a special election, but suggests using the already scheduled election this November, according to the Charleston Daily Mail.

"Since a general election is already scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010, it is suggested that a special primary election be held at a time which maximizes the opportunity for all potential candidates to prepare for both the special election and the general election, and for all voters, including those in the Armed Services, to participate and have their voices heard," McGraw said.

Manchin issued a statement saying he would consult with the state legislature.

"In light of this opinion, I plan to speak with the state's legislative leadership immediately to determine how we will further proceed in order to reach a conclusion to this matter," he said.

In order to have a special election this fall, the state legislature may have to change the West Virginia election code. If that is required, Manchin would have to direct the legislature to revisit the issue during its special session, which is scheduled to begin July 19.

On Wednesday, Manchin said he wanted the AG to weigh in on the issue and he would not appoint anyone or move forward with the succession process until that happened.

Manchin also said he was open to a November 2010 special election for Byrd’s seat, and that he would consider running in that election.

He indicated he would name an appointee after McGraw issued his opinion.

As it stands now, Manchin would appoint someone to fill Byrd's Senate seat until a special election is held in November 2012. That election would pick a candidate to fill the five weeks remaining in Byrd's term. On the same ballot, voters would elect a candidate for a full six-year term. That process came from a ruling by Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who did not consult with McGraw.

McGraw's office said the interpretation by Tennant's office gives "insufficient weight to the dictates of the Seventeenth Amendment" of the U.S Constitution, which calls for the popular election of senators and allows only "temporary" appointments by state governors, according to the Mail piece.

Some Democrats said they were pleased the AG issued an opinion but didn't want to comment on its legal ramifications.

"We're always in favor of constituents having the opportunity to be heard and to vote," Larry Puccio, the Democratic state party chairman, told The Ballot Box.

-- This post was updated at 4:44 p.m.

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