From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
Start the clock. And mark Jan. 29th on your calendars for Democrats to have a chance at a cloture vote on health care -- if Republican Scott Brown defeats Democrat Martha Coakley in today's Massachusetts special election.
That's the earliest the winner of today's election is likely to be seated, according to the Massachusetts Secretary of State's office.
Military and overseas ballots have to be received by the state 10 calendar days after today's special election -- Jan. 29, according to Brian McNiff, spokesman for Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin.
Municipalities then have an additional five days to send in results, giving Democrats, theoretically, until Feb. 3. But that's not likely because this is not a complicated election, McNiff said.
"There's only one contest on this ballot," McNiff said, so municipalities should be able to count all the votes and have everything in closer to the 10-day deadline than later, he said.
After the results are sent back to the Secretary of State's office, then the results are voted on by a board, and then the certification is signed by the governor.
Remember that we learned during the Blago-Burris appointment escapade that the Senate requires both the signature of the governor and the Secretary of State in order to seat an incoming senator.
Massachusetts Rep. Niki Tsongas, however, was seated before certification, but that was because the House requested that the state say who the winner was based on unofficial results and then accepted that as enough, McNiff said.
That's not the case with the Senate, however, McNiff said. If the Senate were to ask for that, though, he added, "then they'd get it."
Ted Kennedy was seated just one day after he won election in 1962 -- not 10 or 15 days, a point Republicans have reiterated.
True, McNiff said, but that's because the rules have changed since then. In 1962, the former Sen. Ben Smith RESIGNED after Kennedy was elected, and Kennedy was then APPOINTED by the governor. But, McNiff said, if Kennedy's replacement, Paul Kirk, resigned, that would trigger a special election. (Even though Democrats had changed the law to allow Gov. Deval Patrick to appoint Kirk, McNiff said it was written narrowly to allow for Kirk to serve only until this special election.)
In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid dictates the agenda. His spokesman, Jim Manley, said it is also Reid's office's understanding that Massachusetts takes 10 to 15 days to certify, and after that, a new U.S. Senator will be seated.
"When there is a certified winner in Massachusetts," Manley said, "the Senate has received appropriate papers, and the Vice President is available, the successor to Senators Kennedy and Kirk will be sworn in."