Judge says Minnesota congressional election back on despite death of third-party candidate

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A federal judge ruled Friday that Minnesota cannot postpone the November election in a suburban Twin Cities congressional district after the death of a third-party candidate, handing a victory to Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) and House Democrats.

In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright granted an injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing a law that cancels the election, citing the “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 death of Adam Weeks, a farmer running for Craig’s seat under the Legal Marijuana Now party, triggered the law in question. It requires the election to be rescheduled if a “major party” candidate dies; the Legal Marijuana Now party meets that definition because its candidate for state auditor in 2018 received more than 5 percent of the vote.

“The Minnesota Nominee Vacancy Statute does more than restrict voting rights,” Wright wrote in a 24-page ruling. “The statute also decrees that votes for the election in question — including votes that have already been cast — will not be counted at all. Exclusion of these votes from consideration in the election undoubtedly restricts or violates the voting rights of those qualified voters who cast them.”

Tyler Kistner, the district’s Republican nominee, said Friday that he would appeal the ruling to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. “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,” he wrote in a statement.

Craig protested in a lawsuit filed in late September, arguing that federal law mandates congressional elections are to be held in the November of even years. She released a statement Friday hailing the law as “an enormous victory” for the district. The state law, enacted in 2013, was inspired by the 2002 death of then-Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) just days before that year’s election.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon sponsored the bill for that law when he served in the state House and defended the law in court.

Craig, a freshman congresswoman who holds a district that President Donald Trump carried narrowly in 2016, will now face Kistner, a Marine veteran, next month. Before the postponement, Craig was favored to win reelection in November — but now voters are likely to experience some confusion.

In-person early voting began in Minnesota in mid-September before Weeks’ death. State officials said any votes cast for the 2nd District would be discarded, and both parties had taken down much of their TV advertising following the secretary of state’s announcement last month.

Regardless, the ruling is still a boon to Craig. Kistner proved to be a strong fundraiser — and a low-turnout special election could have made for a more competitive race, particularly if it is held in the first few weeks of a new Democratic presidential administration.

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