Washington (CNN) - West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant announced Monday afternoon that there will be no election this year to fill the remaining time in the term of the late Sen. Robert Byrd, ending hours of speculation. Tennant said the election will take place in 2012.
Byrd, 92, died early Monday. The nine term Democrat, who served for six years in the House prior to his move to the Senate, was the longest serving member ever in Congressional history.
But the timing of Sen. Robert Byrd's death contributed to confusion about filling the remainder of his term.
Under West Virginia law, Gov. Joe Manchin has the power to appoint a successor. Since Manchin, a popular two-term governor, is also a Democrat, it's expected he will name a fellow member of his party to succeed Byrd, thereby keeping Democrats' caucus in the Senate at 59 seats.
That was the easy part. Here's where it gets confusing.
West Virginia law also says that if the "unexpired term of any other office named in this section is for a period of less than two years and six months, the appointment to fill the vacancy is for the unexpired term." That means that if Byrd had died within two and a half years of the end of his term, his successor would serve out the remainder of the term.
Byrd was re-elected in 2006 and his seat was not up for re-election again until November 2012. His current term was scheduled to end on January 3, 2013, which is just a few days more than the than two and a half years dictated by West Virginia law.
The law does not clarify when a vacancy occurs. For example, is it when the death occurs, when the Senate informs the state of the vacancy, or when the governor of the state declares the seat vacant? The timing is crucial, since this upcoming Saturday, July 3, marks two and a half years until Byrd's term ends.
So the question of when the next election for Byrd's seat will take place – in 2012 when his term ends, or possibly as early as this November, was unresolved for much of Monday, until Tennant announced that the election will not be in 2010.
Late Monday afternoon Tennant clarified the situation. Citing the same section of code, she said that the law "requires the candidate to have filed during the filing period. That filing period has already passed."
The secretary of state continued, adding that "the election for the unexpired term would be the next election cycle which would take place in 2012. Candidates will be nominated in the primary and elected in the general of 2012."
Tennant also announced that two elections will be held in November 2012, one to fill the remaining two months of Byrd's term and one for the new six year term in the Senate that begins in January 2013.
Manchin told the Associated Press Monday that he will not name himself to the seat. But the governor, whose second term is up at the end of 2012, is thought to have interest in running for the Senate seat. Because of that, it's widely expected that Manchin will name a caretaker to replace Byrd.
–CNN's Mark Preston and Dugald McConnell contributed to this report
Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @psteinhausercnn