Senate Special Elections Cloud November Picture

Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) is huddling with his lawyers to decide whether to mount a legal challenge to force his way onto the November ballot for the special election to serve out the remainder of President Obama’s Senate term.

“I said I was going to run, but the judge has made it so that I’m not a candidate,” Burris told The Hill. “My lawyers are assessing what we can do.

“I would like to be a candidate for the balance of the term.”

An Illinois judge ruled Monday that the state’s general-election Senate candidates will also appear on the special-election ballot for the remainder of Obama’s Senate term.

So Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and Republican Mark Kirk will be running in two races for one seat.

In addition, the judge’s ruling kept Burris’s name off the ballot.

But if Burris is successful in appealing the decision, he could end up splitting the Democratic vote, thereby giving Kirk early entree into the Senate.

“They were trying to correct the constitutional problem but may have created another constitutional problem; I don’t know,” Burris said. “My lawyers are looking at it now.”

The winner of the special election will serve out the 60 days between Nov. 3 and Jan. 3, when a new Congress is inaugurated. An official with the Illinois State Board of Elections said the results should be certified within the week of Nov. 22, which would install the new senator in the midst of the lame-duck session.

In addition to Illinois, Delaware is holding a Nov. 2 special election for remainder of Vice President Joe Biden’s term, and West Virginia is doing the same for the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D) seat.

If Republicans win these mini-terms, thereby robbing the Democrats of three seats, it could change the dynamic in the Senate’s lame-duck session.

There have been rumblings that major legislation will be addressed in the session after the November vote. Democrats have a solid majority in the House, but since the party lost its 60th vote in the Senate, the GOP has been able to exert more influence using procedural maneuvers. A further erosion of the Democrats’ Senate caucus would give the GOP a stronger hand in shaping the lame-duck agenda.

Moreover, it would be a hugely symbolic win for the Republicans to capture Obama’s and Biden’s seats.

In Delaware, appointed Sen. Ted Kaufman’s (D) tenure as Biden’s replacement ends on Nov. 2. Whoever wins the special Senate election slated for that day will be sworn in and assume office immediately. Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) is polling ahead in that race.

In West Virginia, there will be a special election and a general election on Nov. 2, with the winner of the special serving out the remainder of Byrd’s term. A spokesman for the secretary of state’s office said it will take about three weeks for special-election results to be certified, after which the winner will be able to take his seat in the Senate. Gov. Joe Manchin (D) is heavily favored to win both votes.

There are three other appointed senators, in addition to Burris, Kaufman and Sen. Carte Goodwin (D-W.Va.). Each state has a different way of handling the transition from an appointed to an elected senator.


Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.), who took his seat on Sept. 10, 2009, after Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) resigned, will serve through Jan. 3, when the winner of the November vote will be sworn in. “If there had been more time to the term, then we would have had a special election on our [November] ballots,” said a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of State.

New York

There will be no change in New York’s Senate representation immediately after the November vote, according to the New York State Board of Elections.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) was appointed by Gov. David Paterson (D) in January 2009 to serve out the remainder of now-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s term. Under New York law, the appointee serves until the next general election. Gillibrand will serve until Jan. 3, even if she loses on Nov. 2. Clinton won reelection in 2006, so the winner of the Nov. 2 vote will serve until 2012, at which point the seat will go back onto a six-year cycle.


Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) will serve through Jan. 3 regardless of whether he loses his primary or the November vote, according to a spokesman for the Colorado secretary of state. Bennet has been in the Senate about 17 months, serving out the remainder of now-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s term.

Read more from Sean J. Miller and Shane D’Aprile at The Hill

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