Updated: October 09, 2020 05:46 PM
Created: October 09, 2020 04:30 PM
A federal judge ruled Friday that the election for Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District should proceed in November as originally scheduled, despite the recent death of a third-party candidate.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Angie Craig asked the judge to require that the election be held in November instead of being delayed until February — after the Sept. 21 death of Legal Marijuana Now Party candidate Adam Weeks triggered a state law that led to the postponement.
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 as part of the November election. She warned that the district would go without congressional representation for several weeks if the election were delayed.
“Unfortunately, the process currently in place would deprive Minnesotans of their seat at the table at a time when critical legislation affecting our state will be debated — including bills to rid politics of special interests, ensure quality, affordable health care for every Minnesotan and safeguard our family farmers," Craig said when she filed her lawsuit.
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, who is also a Democrat, said state law requires that 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 changed 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.
Craig is facing a challenge from Republican Tyler Kistner, a Marine Corps veteran making his first run for office. Kistner argued that the election should be held in February, as state law allows. His attorneys said in court documents that a February election would protect the interest of the candidates, election officials and voters. They also said that the state law is consistent with federal law because, unlike a presidential election, congressional races are determined in the local district, not by national votes.
While Craig argued that a special election would lead to chaos and cause voter confusion and disenfranchisement, Kistner's attorneys said a special election would instead provide all major parties and voters an equal opportunity to participate. The state law also gives voters who have already cast their vote for Weeks another opportunity to vote for someone else.
Minnesota began early voting on Sept. 18. Craig continued to urged her supporters to mark their ballots for her and other Democrats, even while the date of the 2nd District race was in limbo.
Attorneys for Simon argued in court filings that voters in the 2nd District have already cast ballots under belief that the election would be postponed, so they may not have voted in that race. They also said that switching the race back to November would cause more confusion. Simon's attorneys also argued that holding the election in November would eliminate the Legal Marijuana Now Party's opportunity to field a candidate to replace Weeks.
Kistner responded to the ruling with the following statement:
"As recently as this week, the United States Supreme Court and Appeals Courts have ruled that state laws cannot be overturned on the eve of an election. We are confident that the Minnesota State Law will be upheld during the appeals process. We hope the Attorney General will fulfill his obligation to defend state law."
"Based on the previous statements from Secretary of State Simon, numerous voters have reached out to our campaign and stated that they did not vote in the 2nd District race because they were told their vote would not be counted on November 3rd. Additionally, we canceled numerous TV and digital advertising buys, and refrained from sending out voter contact mailings."
"Because of the way this has played out, my campaign will be appealing Judge Wright's ruling to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to make sure that every Minnesotan has an opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choosing."
Rep. Craig responded to the ruling by saying:
"In this case, the decision was clear – Minnesota does not have the authority to alter the date for federal elections. A February special election would have deprived the voters of the Second District of their seat at the table during a crucial period in Congress. 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. I am grateful that Judge Wright affirmed our position that federal law controls the date for federal elections. The voters of Minnesota's Second Congressional District deserve representation in Congress next January and I look forward to November's election."
Simon told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS:
"Today, a district court found that MN Statute 204B.13 is preempted by federal law as it is applied to the Second Congressional District race in the November 3, 2020 general election. Voters should continue to vote this race on their ballots, and pursuant to the district court ruling, those votes will be counted."
(Copyright 2020 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)