By: Amy Menefee
State Capital Bureau
JEFFERSON CITY - Just a few days before the Nov. 5 election, no one seems to know when the winner of Missouri's U.S. Senate race will be certified.
This is a special election, as Sen. Jean Carnahan was appointed to fill a vacancy. This means the winner could be seated immediately, while the other senators will take office in January.
But the election is just the beginning. To be seated, the winner must make it through several hoops, not the least of which is the Senate itself.
And Senate officials say they aren't certain how it will play out.
"What's unique about this situation is that the Senate is so evenly divided," said Senate historian Betty Koed.
Because of the likelihood of a lame-duck Congressional session and the narrow one-seat divide of the Senate, the winner of Missouri's race could impact the nation's legislative agenda between November and January. If Republican Jim Talent were to win and be seated immediately, it would shift power to the GOP. If Democratic incumbent Jean Carnahan were to retain the seat, the balance of power would go undisturbed.
Koed said the unique quality of this year's election makes it a matter of speculation, as there is really no precedent.
"The most common practice now is that once the ballots are counted, they take office," Koed said. "But that has gone back and forth over the years."
Koed said the Senate decides whom to seat and when, and party leadership might factor into the timing.
"They'll have to decide step by step," Koed said. "We're all sort of waiting with everybody else."
Before it reaches the Senate, certification of election starts with Missouri's governor and secretary of state. The state officials are supposed to sign a form recommended by the standing rules of the Senate.
Spence Jackson, spokesman for Missouri Secretary of State Matt Blunt, a Republican, said he doesn't anticipate any delay on Blunt's end.
"We would be prepared to sign it once the election results were certified," Jackson said. He said election results must be final by four weeks after the election.
But Democratic Gov. Bob Holden says he considers everything "hypothetical" until after the election. There is no time limit on the governor's certification, and Holden has avoided committing to a swift signature.
Holden's spokeswoman, Chris Kelly, said the governor's timing would not be based on the winner of the race.
"His legal team will look into it when the votes are counted," Kelly said. "He will do whatever the law says he is supposed to do."
Even if Holden signs immediately, Jackson said, "the next question mark lies with the Senate."