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Byrd's successor will likely serve through 2012

From NBC's Mark Murray
Although there is confusion over West Virginia's succession law, Democrats and Republicans tell First Read that whomever Gov. Joe Manchin (D) appoints to replace Robert Byrd in the Senate will probably be able to serve through 2012.

At issue is whether the appointment will last through the end of this year (with a special election for the seat this year) or through 2012 (when Byrd's term expires).

Here is the relevant state code:
Any vacancy occurring in the office of secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, attorney general, commissioner of agriculture, United States senator, judge of the supreme court of appeals, or in any office created or made elective, to be filled by the voters of the entire state, or judge of a circuit court, shall be filled by the governor of the state by appointment. If the unexpired term of a judge of the supreme court of appeals, or a judge of the circuit court, be for less than two years; or if the unexpired term of any other office named in this section be for a period of less than two years and six months, the appointment to fill the vacancy shall be for the unexpired term. If the unexpired term of any office be for a longer period than above specified, the appointment shall be until a successor to the office has timely filed a certificate of candidacy, has been nominated at the primary election next following such timely filing and has thereafter been elected and qualified to fill the unexpired term.

Translation: If the unexpired term for the Senate is for more than 30 months, then there needs to be a special election to fill the seat. And as it turns out, Byrd's unexpired term WOULD BE for more than 30 months (which would be Dec. 28, 2012, and Byrd's seat expires on Jan. 3, 2013).

But the part of the code describing the "primary election next following such timely filing" is leading observers to believe that the election for the seat won't occur to 2012, because West Virginia already had its primaries back in May, and the next scheduled elections aren't until 2012.

Confused? Well, West Virginia's Secretary of State's office tells NBC News that it will be releasing a statement this afternoon to make sense of the state's succession law.