UPDATE: 11:50 AM. I'm now hearing from a well-placed source that the Secretary of State's office is very likely to interpret the law as requiring a special election in 2012, rather than in November, because the candidate filing period for this year has already passed and because there is a court precedent on the books which supported this interpretation.
If this scenario comes to transpire, there would actually be both a special election and a general election on the ballot in November 2012 -- although the winner of the special election would only serve during the lame duck period between the elections and when the new Congress convened in January, 2013.
The West Virginia Secretary of State will hold a press conference at 4:30 today at which an official decision is announced.
ORIGINAL STORY: 9:16 AM. I just got off the phone with Jake Glance, the Public Affairs and Communications officer for West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie E. Tennant.
Glance told me that no decision has been made yet on when a special election would be held to replace Robert Byrd, who passed away early this morning. Various interpretations of the law might require the special election to be held this November -- or not until November, 2012, when Byrd's term was set to expire anyway.
"There are a lot of sections on state code that apply to this kind of thing and we're examining each one of them and we'll be making an announcement soon," Glance told me. "We just need to make sure that what we say fits this specific situation."
Glance added that it had been a difficult day at the office. "It's really difficult to imagine this state without Robert Byrd," he said. "Everything has his name on it out of appreciation for what he did."