CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On a 29-1 vote Friday, state senators passed their version of a bill (SB2001) to clarify West Virginia law on U.S. senatorial succession, after rejecting a proposal to select the successor to the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd in an open election this fall.
As drafted, the bill sets a special primary for Aug. 28 to select party nominees for a Nov. 2 special election to fill Byrd's unexpired term in the Senate. The House of Delegates will consider the bill Saturday.
Sen. Ed Bowman, D-Hancock, tried to amend the bill to eliminate the primary election and have all candidates from all political parties run in an open election on Nov. 2.
Bowman said that would save the estimated $5.9 million cost of holding a statewide special primary -- an election he said might be uncontested, with only one Democrat and one Republican on the party ballots.
"I think that's an absurd expense of the taxpayers' money," he said.
There will be no additional cost for the Nov. 2 special election, which will coincide with the regularly scheduled off-year general election.
However, most senators were adamant that there should be a primary election to select the candidates for the special election.
Sen. Karen Facemyer, R-Jackson, said primaries are a critical part of the election process.
"Anyone who wants to put their name on that ballot should be able to do so," she said.
Sen. Jesse Guills, R-Greenbrier, noted that if six or eight candidates ran in an open election, Byrd's successor could win the election without securing a majority vote of the people.
He said a single miscast vote by Byrd's successor could end up costing West Virginia far more than $6 million.