CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Joe Manchin has authority -- under state law and the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- to call a special election for later this year to fill Robert C. Byrd's unexpired term in the U.S. Senate, an opinion issued Thursday afternoon by state Attorney General Darrell McGraw concludes.
If Manchin calls a special election -- which McGraw's opinion says could logically coincide with the regularly scheduled Nov. 2 general election -- state law and a prior attorney general's opinion requires that nominees be selected in a special primary election, McGraw's opinion states.
"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 general election," the opinion states.
Manchin requested the attorney general's opinion during a press conference Wednesday, saying he does not believe a temporary appointee should be allowed to hold the vacated Senate seat for 21/2 years.
"Two and a half years is too long for me or anybody else to appoint somebody," he said Wednesday.
Manchin, who is in Boston attending the National Governors' Association summer meeting, released a statement Thursday evening thanking McGraw "for rendering such a swift reply."
"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 in this matter," Manchin said.
Last week, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said her staff attorneys had concluded that the state's senatorial succession law did not permit a special election for Byrd's seat prior to 2012.
In his opinion, McGraw suggested that, in reaching that conclusion, Tennant had relied too heavily on a 1994 state Supreme Court decision involving a circuit court vacancy.