Mark Kirk Win Gives Democrats One Fewer Vote For Lame-Duck Session

11/04/2010 12:28 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Before they lose their majority in the House, and many valuable votes in the Senate, Congressional Democrats will want to get some work done. They've still got the so-called "lame duck session," beginning on November 15, to legislate before the swearing-in of the new Congress in January, and they're hoping to address Bush-era tax cuts, Medicare payments and nuclear weapons reductions.

But their task will be one vote more difficult, due to a quirk in Illinois's election results: Mark Kirk, the Republican Senator-elect from the Land of Lincoln, will be sworn in to replace Democrat Roland Burris more than two months ahead of the rest of his class.

The oddity stems from a court ruling this summer, and ultimately from the Seventeenth Amendment, which mandated the direct election of U.S. Senators by popular vote.

One part of that amendment reads, "When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of each State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies." That is, if a seat gets vacated, a replacement can be appointed temporarily, but the state has to hold an election for the unfinished term.

When President Obama left his Senate seat to move to the White House, there was, of course, a Blago-centric circus to determine who would fill it; Roland Burris was the final choice. State officials seemed content to let Burris serve out the remainder of Obama's term, as the seat was coming up for a vote in 2010.

But the courts wouldn't have it. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood ruled that the "shall" in the Amendment was clear: states are obligated to hold special elections as quickly as possible to fill vacancies.

That ruling came down over the summer. Since the November elections were coming up so quickly, and the state board of elections couldn't mobilize another vote in the interim, there were actually two Senate races on the ballot on Tuesday. The candidates were identical, but the terms were different -- one was for the remainder of Burris's term, i.e. the next two months, and the other was for the following six-year term.

Mark Kirk won both elections. As a result, he'll be hustled off to Washington to give Roland Burris the early boot. Not that Illinoisans will be too upset at the ouster of the least popular Senator in recent history, but the early flip of the Illinois seat will cause an added headache for national Democrats who are already suffering a vicious one.

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