Barring unforeseen disputes, winners of special elections in Illinois, Delaware and West Virginia are expected to take their seats - and their first votes - within days of the Nov. 2 election. The early start will give the three an edge in seniority over their fellow newly elected senators, who must wait until the new Congress convenes Jan. 3.
They'll immediately face votes in a lame-duck session on some thorny issues, like whether to continue Bush-era tax cuts for everyone, or start making people who earn over $200,000 pay higher income taxes. The departing Congress is also expected to consider repealing the military's ban on openly serving gay personnel and other proposals between Nov. 2 and the new Congress.
Illinois Democrat Roland Burris, chosen to replace President Barack Obama in the Senate by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, must leave the Senate after Election Day, according to a series of court rulings. The Supreme Court this week rejected Burris' bid to block a special election to decide who serves out the final two months of Obama's term, which began in 2005.
So the winner of the special election, either Republican Mark Kirk or Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, will serve in the lame-duck session. The winner of a second ballot, which includes the same candidates, will serve the full, six-year term that begins in January.
In Delaware, the new senator-elect will be sworn to serve in the postelection session, said Michael A. Barlow, counsel to Gov. Jack A. Markell. There, Republican Christine O'Donnell and Democrat Chris Coons are battling for Vice President Joe Biden's former Senate seat. Ted Kaufman, a longtime aide to Biden, has been serving in the seat on a gubernatorial appointment, since Biden left it to become vice president.
And in West Virginia the winner of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd's seat is expected to serve during the lame-duck session, replacing Carte Goodwin, a Democrat. The battle pits Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin against Republican John Raese. After Byrd's death, Manchin in July appointed Goodwin, his former counsel and a Charleston lawyer, to fill the seat until a successor is elected.
The winners of two other Senate elections, in Florida and Colorado, will be seated at the beginning of the new Congress on Jan. 3, according to officials in those states. That means Sens. George LeMieux, R-Fla., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., will serve out the lame-duck session.
Bennet, appointed last year to serve out Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's term, is running against Republican Ken Buck.
In Florida, LeMieux will cede his seat to the winner of a three-way race between Republican-turned-independent Gov. Charlie Crist, Republican nominee Marco Rubio and Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek.