Robert Byrd's Replacement: When Does the Vacancy Occur?

ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf reports: Sen. Byrd's passing marks the end of a half-century era in the Senate, but it also raises some interesting short-term technical questions in West Virginia - like when his seat technically becomes vacant.

No matter what, the Governor there, Democrat Joe Manchin, will appoint a short-term replacement. But will that replacement serve for five months or two and a half years?

It stands to reason that the vacancy would occur today, June 28. In that case, there would be a special election this November to fill out the remainder of the term, which expires Jan. 3, 2013, after the 2012 elecion.

If the vacancy had occurred Saturday, July 3 or after, Manchin would appoint someone to serve out the rest of the term until after the 2012 election. The question then becomes: Is there some fungibility on when the vacancy technically occurs?

Read the rules at the West Virginia Secretary of State website .

Manchin is thought to be eyeing the seat himself and is out of a job in 2012, when his second (and by law, final) term runs out. It stands to reason that unless he wants to move out of the Governor's mansion early to run for Senate in a special election this year, Manchin would be better off appointing a place holder to fill the seat until 2012.

In a written statement Monday morning, Manchin said all West Virginians' hearts break at the passing of Byrd.

"Sen. Byrd was a fearless fighter for the constitution, his beloved state and its great people," said Manchin. "He made a significant mark as a member of Congress in both our state's and nation's history. His accomplishments and contributions will define history for eternity. "Our hearts and prayers go out to his daughters, friends and loved ones, his committed staff and to the people of West Virginia; we have suffered a terrible loss."

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