Flaws in West Virginia election law exposed after Senator Byrd's death

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July 8, 2010

By Kyle Maichle

CHARLESTON, West Virginia: The process to fill the United States Senate seat left vacant in the wake of the passing of Robert Byrd has allowed for flaws in West Virginia election law to be exposed at the same time. State agencies that have the responsibility to find a successor to Senator Byrd have been in disagreement on how to proceed with the process. This is prompting political leaders in West Virginia to take action.[1]

The call to change election laws is in response to a opinion issued from Secretary of State Natalie Tennant over the law governing special elections for United States Senate vacancies. Byrd's death happened a week before a cut-off deadline mandated by state law.[1] Since the Senator passed away with a little more than two and half years left in his term, a special election would be required. However, Tennant stated in her opinion that there would be no special election until 2012. The Secretary of State cited that the nominating deadline for candidates in 2010 has passed. West Virginia requires candidates for special elections to file their nominating papers by the same deadlines other candidates have to follow.[1]

The Attorney General's office took issue with Tennant's opinion. This led to one Assistant Attorney General to call out the Secretary of State for issuing an legal opinion without consulting with the state's top law enforcement agency. Assistant Attorney General Fran Hughes stated: "we are a bit taken back to have somebody on such an important legal issue not consult with our office." McGraw also told Tennant "not so fast" indicating that his office is examining the law governing special elections.[2]

The Republican Party of West Virginia is considering to take any action if necessary to change the law.[1] Troy Berman, the Executive Director for the West Virginia Republicans, told the Charleston State Journal that the party will ask legislators to take action when the Legislature convenes for special session on July 17, 2010. Berman also said that the party would not rule out filing a lawsuit if the Legislature fails to take action. If a lawsuit is filed, Berman feels that it will come down to knowing if the current law on special elections is constitutional or not.[1]

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