CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia law prohibits a special election this year to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat left by the passing of Sen. Robert Byrd, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said Monday.
Instead, Gov. Joe Manchin can appoint someone to fill the now-open Senate seat.
Manchin's appointee will serve until after the 2012 general election .
The governor's office said Monday he would not appoint himself to the seat, ending some speculation but setting off other rumors as to whom he would appoint.
Tennant's office issued the opinion after weighing state election law and a 1994 Supreme Court ruling. A Manchin spokeswoman said the governor's office concurs with Tennant's interpretation of state election law.
State law says a special election should be held if a Senate seat opens with more than two and a half years left in the term.
But it also says the election should occur as part of a regular cycle, meaning there should be a full primary and general election.
While Byrd died with more than two and a half years left to serve, he did so after this year's primary filing deadline.
That puts an election off until 2012.
At that time a special election will decide who serves the remainder of Byrd's unexpired term. There will be only about six weeks between the general election and the start of a new six-year term in January 2013.
But a regular election held at the same time as the special election will decide who fills the next six-year term.
The same person can run in both elections.
In the meantime, until the November 2012 election, Manchin's appointee will serve as senator.
That is, unless there is a push to change state election law.
The executive director of the state Republican Party, Troy Berman, called the multi-part process a "quirk" in state election law. He said the Legislature should change the law during its mid-July special session.