MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A federal judge on Friday ruled that the election in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District should proceed in November as originally scheduled, despite the recent death of a third-party candidate, saying a delay would leave constituents without representation for weeks.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Angie Craig asked the judge to block enforcement of a state law that postponed the election to February upon the Sept. 21 death of Legal Marijuana Now Party candidate Adam Weeks.
Craig, who is seeking a second term representing the competitive suburban and rural district south of the Twin Cities, argued that federal law requires the contest to be held in November.
In her ruling Friday, U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright granted Craig’s request, saying Craig is likely to succeed in her argument that federal law preempts state law, and that Craig would suffer harm because she would have to conserve campaign resources for use in February if there was a delay. She also said a November election is the public’s interest because a delay would mean that constituents would go without representation for more than a month.
“Given the overwhelming importance for Minnesota’s Second Congressional District voters to be able to vote in the November general election and to have uninterrupted representation in the United States Congress, the public interest weighs in favor of granting Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction,” Wright wrote.
Secretary of State Steve Simon must also stop telling voters in the 2nd District that their votes on Nov. 3 will not be counted, according to her order.
In a statement Friday, Simon said, “Voters should continue to vote this race on their ballots, and pursuant to the district court ruling, those votes will be counted.”
Craig’s Republican opponent, Tyler Kistner, had argued for the postponement and said he will appeal the ruling “to make sure that every Minnesotan has an opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choosing.”
Kistner, a Marine Corps veteran making his first run for office, said in a statement that numerous voters told his campaign they didn’t vote in the 2nd District because they were told their vote wouldn’t be counted in November.
His attorneys filed a request Friday to keep Wright’s order from being enforced while he appeals, saying her order is “sure to disenfranchise thousands of voters” who believed there would be no election on Nov. 3.
Craig said the decision shows that Minnesota doesn’t have the authority to alter the date for federal elections. “This is an enormous victory for the people of the Second District, who will still have an opportunity to make their voices heard in this election,” she said.
Simon spokeswoman Risikat Adesaogun said someone who skipped a vote in the 2nd District when they voted early or absentee may go to their county elections office to have their ballot spoiled, and they will be given a new ballot to complete. However, the deadline to make that change is Oct. 20.
Simon, who is also a Democrat, said after Weeks’ death that state law requires if a major party nominee dies within 79 days of Election Day, a special election must be held for that office on the second Tuesday in February, which would be Feb. 9. Legal Marijuana Now has major party status in Minnesota under a law that lets a small party qualify if one of its candidates for statewide office got at least 5% of the vote in a recent election.
The Legislature added this provision to state election law to avoid a repeat of the hectic 2002 race, when Sen. Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash 11 days before the election. Democrats chose former Vice President Walter Mondale to replace Wellstone on the ballot, but he lost the seat to Republican Norm Coleman.
Wright noted that unlike this case, Wellstone’s death caused a “vacancy” because he was already an elected person, not a nominee. Absent the vacancy of an elected official, she said Congress has not given state governments the authority to decide when to hold elections for the U.S. House.
Craig is expected to benefit from the high turnout on Election Day, while Kistner’s chances may have been better in a special election, in which Republicans tend to have a greater advantage from the lower turnout.
Minnesota began early voting on Sept. 18. Craig continued to urge her supporters to mark their ballots for her and other Democrats, even while the date of the 2nd District race was in limbo.
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