CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant says her office is already moving forward in preparing for a special legislative session called by Gov. Joe Manchin.
The special session, starting Thursday, will focus on the succession process for filling the vacancy in the U.S. Senate following the death of Sen. Robert Byrd, a Democrat. The longest serving member of Congress died June 28 at the age of 92.
In a statement from her office Monday, Tennant said she and her staff have called and met with legislative leaders, Manchin's staff, and have asked assistance from state Attorney General Darrell McGraw.
"We have been evaluating the legal requirements and timelines for various election scenarios and have been working with county clerks to ensure we can all administer a timely and fair election process once the Legislature has clarified the process," Tennant said.
"I look forward to working with all entities involved to help clarify the code to make it possible for the voters of West Virginia to elect the person who would fill Senator Byrd's position," she added.
The special session begins at noon on Thursday.
In a legal opinion issued last week, McGraw said West Virginians should elect someone this year to replace the late senator.
McGraw's opinion contradicted the stance of Tennant, who said Manchin would have to appoint a replacement to serve until a November 2012 election when voters would elect a five-week senator to finish Byrd's term and another candidate to start a six-year term in January 2013.
McGraw termed the scenario described by Tennant "awkward and unintended" and recommended a special primary election.
"(State law), construed in aid of the U.S. Constitution, Amendment XVII, authorizes the governor to proclaim a special election to fill the remainder of Sen. Byrd's unexpired term, since said unexpired term exceeded two years and six months at the time the vacancy occurred," McGraw wrote.
"The date of the special election may be set by the governor in the proclamation. Since a general election is already scheduled for (Nov. 2), 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."
Manchin, who requested the attorney general's opinion, thanked McGraw for his timely reply. The governor, in his last term, has said he will not appoint himself to Byrd's position but would "highly consider" running for a the seat if an election is held this year.
Only after the law is changed and a temporary senator appointed, would he announce whether he plans to run for the Senate seat, Manchin said. He is highly likely to do so.
Manchin also requested McGraw's opinion on election procedures.
"The conduct of the special election may be set by the governor... to conform as closely as possible to existing election law... with necessary modifications," McGraw wrote.
"The power to proclaim a special election... necessarily carries the ancillary power to set the parameters of said special election; otherwise, the power to proclaim the election would be meaningless."