Nate Silver from the impressively accurate statistical analysis site FiveThirtyEight.com points out a mathematical twist to the unorthodox and unresolved Minnesota and Illinois senate seat races:
...It really does the Democrats no good to have just one of Al Franken and Roland Burris seated -- they only gain ground if and when both get sworn in.Silver goes on to suggest that the Democrats could temporarily seat Burris and then have a special election later that they might lose as a viable option in exchange for the Republicans agreeing to seat Franken posthaste, who looks like he's going to win his race (I'll have more to say on that development if and when it happens).
This is why. Presently the Democrats have a 57-member caucus, counting neither Burris nor Franken. However, because there are currently only 98 senators, this reduces the number of votes required to break a filibuster from 60 to 59. (Vacancies are not counted when calculating the number of votes needed to break a filibuster; three-fifths of 98 is 58.8, which rounds up to 59). Therefore, the Democrats would need two crossover votes to pass a cloture resolution.
But now, suppose that Franken gets seated but Burris doesn't. The Democrats add a member to their caucus, brining them to 58 members. However, with 99 senators rather than 98, the filibuster threshold goes back up to 60 votes (three-fifths of 99 is 59.4, but the rule in this instance requires rounding up). Thus, the Democrats remain two votes shy of breaking a filibuster.
Once the Democrats get senators seated in both Illinois and Minnesota, however, they'll have 59 votes out of the 60 they need, leaving them just one vote shy -- and Sens. Specter, Snowe, et. al. ripe for the picking.
It seems to me that Burris is being as brazen as Blagojevich in that he's basically giving the finger to anyone and everyone he encounters throughout this process, and it even seems like he has a pretty good legal case that allows him to do so at this point but I think he needs to check his ambitions and make some realistic concessions to the party leadership. The Democrats may need the vote his seat carries but they definitely don't want the man as he is now and they may just change/break some rules to get rid of him if he's not careful.
And I'm not just saying this because I'm a liberal and want a filibuster-proof senate for the first few years of an Obama administration but the US Senate has to be one of the only places where 59.4 is rounded up, but I guess politicians get to make up their own math as well.