Manchin proposes bill for Byrd replacement election
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - Gov. Joe Manchin on Tuesday released special session legislation that will clarify West Virginia code on the succession process for the state's vacant U.S. Senate seat.
Sen. Robert Byrd, the longest serving member of Congress, died June 28 at the age of 92.
The governor's legislation concurs with West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw's opinion last week, which said the Seventeenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives the governor authority to call a special primary and special general election to coincide with the regular election this November.
Manchin will call the Legislature into special session to consider the legislation starting at noon Thursday. The governor is expected to make an appointment -- to fill the seat temporarily -- by 5 p.m. Friday, his office said.
According to Manchin's office, the legislation also includes a provision to require the state to pay for the entire costs of both special elections.
"The governor's bill is very simple," said Jim Pitrolo, Manchin's director of legislative affairs and policy, in a statement.
"We are taking the Attorney General's opinion and clarifying state code so there can be no doubt as to how the law should be interpreted. This bill would merely clarify the state code so that there is no question that we could have a special primary and special general election."
If the legislation is passed, the governor can proclaim an election this November to fill the U.S. Senate seat, which would include a special primary election, probably to be held in August or September.
"We are releasing the bill to legislators and the public today for discussion and comment," Manchin said in a statement. "Releasing the bill early should give legislators enough time to give it a full and thorough review.
"Secretary of State Natalie Tennant informs us that absolutely every day counts if we are going to be able to have a special primary election."
There are various election deadlines -- some that are in federal law and cannot be waived -- that the state must follow to hold a valid special election that includes a primary.
Manchin said Tuesday he and Tennant have been meeting with a bipartisan group of county clerks to outline the process for a special primary and special general election.
"If we wait too long, all West Virginians will not be able to select their party nominee at the polls, and we would be forced to utilize a party convention or other form of candidate selection to choose nominees for the election," Pitrolo said.
"Because of this, Gov. Manchin will ask the Legislature to consider suspending its rule that a bill must be read on three separate days so that the legislation can go into effect quickly and the state can begin preparing for a special primary."