PARKERSBURG -West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant defended her interpretation of the state code as it relates to filling the state's vacant U.S. Senate seat.
Earlier this week, West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw said state law requires state officials to seek his opinion regarding the legal process to fill the Senate vacancy created by the passing of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va.
Tuesday in Parkersburg, Tennant acknowledged her office should have made a courtesy call to the attorney general, but she stands by the interpretation and the handling of the situation.
Photo by Jody Murphy
Melody Ross, Wood County deputy clerk, sings “The Star-Spangled Banner” Tuesday at Bicentennial Park as part of the Military and Overseas Voter Week kickoff. The program focuses on new initiatives to help deployed military and overseas citizens cast election ballots. Ross is flanked by West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell and Jackson County Clerk Jeff Waybright.
"We deal with questions concerning code 20 to 30 times a day," she said. "It happens all the time."
Tennant pointed out her office handled interpretations of appointments for the state's 10th Senatorial District when Sen. Don Caruth died. In May, Gov. Joe Manchin appointed Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, of Bluefield to fill the seat until a special election is held in November.
"We work with the code every day," she said.
Tennant last week said the state code, when more than 30 months remain in the Senate term, requires the governor to appoint someone to serve the unexpired term until a successor has been elected. That election can't be held until 2012 because the code requires a candidate to have filed during the filing period, which has passed for 2010, she said.
The secretary of state also renewed calls for Manchin to allow the state Legislature to update the state's succession law. Tennant is one of many requesting the matter be brought before a special session of the Legislature.
"I think the people should get their hands in elections," she said.
Tennant was asked why succession hadn't been updated before. The 92-year-old senator, who served for more than a half century, had been in frail health for several years.
Tennant said her office approached legislators last year. She said it was a delicate matter that many legislators didn't want to push.
"We asked lawmakers and their response was they didn't want to be part of a death watch," she said. "They wanted to show respect for the senator while he was still living."
Tennant was in Parkersburg to kick off Military and Overseas Voter Week. The secretary was joined by Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell, Jackson County Clerk Jeff Waybright and Melody Ross, Wood County deputy clerk. The program focuses on new initiatives to help deployed military members and overseas citizens cast ballots.
Tennant said five West Virginia counties participated in the pilot program, including Wood and Jackson counties. Wood and Jackson counties recently took part in an online voting pilot program that saw an 80 percent ballot return rate.
She plans to ask the Legislature to expand the program to additional counties.
Manchin said he will begin work on selecting an appointee to fill Byrd's seat this week. Tennant's name has been mentioned - as both a senatorial appointee and a potential 2012 gubernatorial candidate.
Tennant isn't ruling anything out.
"I haven't discounted anything," she said. "I will look into it and consider it."