By Jim EllisSept. 28, 2020 — A bizarre occurrence has happened in Minnesota that will apparently delay the 2nd Congressional District election until Feb. 9, 2021. Under state law, if a major party candidate passes away within 79 days of the general election date, the vote for the affected office is delayed for approximately three months.
Adam Weeks is the Legal Marijuana Now party congressional nominee, and under Minnesota election law this entity is recognized as a major party. Therefore, Weeks’ untimely and unexpected death earlier this week forces the congressional election of which he was a part to now be held Feb. 9. Though ballots are already printed, any votes cast for the 2nd District contest will not be recognized or counted.
The law came into effect after the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone (D) who perished along with his wife and daughter in a tragic plane crash 11 days before the 2002 election. Under Minnesota law at the time, a replacement nominee had to be chosen because the election would proceed as scheduled. That candidate became former vice president and Minnesota senator, Walter Mondale (D), who would go onto lose to Republican Norm Coleman in a close 50-47 percent election.
Taking action well after 2002, the state enacted the current statute that requires a postponement of the affected political contest. The situation directly touches freshman Rep. Angie Craig (D-Eagan) and Republican nominee Tyler Kistner. The Legal Marijuana Now party will have the opportunity to replace Weeks for the Feb. 9 election.
There are more ramifications than meet the eye here, however. First of all, Rep. Craig will have to leave office at the end of the current Congress because her term will expire. This means she will be out of office for more than one month of the new 117th session. This would put her at the end of the seniority list for the current freshman class if and when she eventually returns to the House.
Secondly, and perhaps the greater problem for all concerned, is that this particular Minnesota statute is likely to be found conflicting with the federal law that requires all states to hold a general election for federal offices on the same day, in this case Nov. 3, 2020.
The national election law also was the key factor in forcing Louisiana to hold its formatted jungle primary election concurrently with the general election date. Before, the Bayou State primary was held in September and anyone winning an absolute majority in that one election was declared the outright victor. The Justice Department ruled that the state could no longer hold an early jungle primary that allowed someone to win outright because it conflicted with the law requiring every state to hold a uniform and simultaneous general election.
Therefore, Louisiana had to either move their jungle primary to run concurrently with the general election, and then hold a post-election runoff, or conduct jungle primaries where two candidates advance to the general election irrespective of vote percentage earned.
The other states that would later adopt the jungle primary system, California and Washington, chose the latter format. Louisiana, wanting to keep the system that allows a candidate to win election in just one vote, chose to move their unaltered voting procedure to the general election date and hold subsequent post-election runoff votes for those races where no candidate earns majority support on the initial ballot.
With this background, should someone challenge the law, a good chance exists that the Minnesota statute would be rejected, and the candidates might then have to jump-start their campaigns in order to return to a shortened final campaign period.
The 2nd District sits southeast of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, capturing the region’s southern suburbs and traveling to the Wisconsin border. It performs as a marginal political district. President Trump carried this seat in 2016 by a scant 46-45 percent margin, for example.
Also, in that year, Republican Jason Lewis, now the GOP nominee for US Senate, won the congressional race replacing long-term Rep. John Kline (R) who retired, but Craig returned to unseat the new congressman in 2018. The Lewis victory margin was 47-45 percent. Craig’s 2018 win was a bit more substantial, 53-47 percent.
This year, it is generally perceived that Rep. Craig is favored for re-election. Only one poll of the race has been released, this from Harper Polling back in July (July 6-8; 401 likely MN-2 voters, live interview) and it showed the congresswoman leading Kistner, a Marine Corps Reserve officer, by nine percentage points, 45-36 percent.
Craig also has a strong financial advantage, though Kistner has posted credible resource numbers for a challenger. Through the July 22 pre-primary Federal Election Commission filing period, the congresswoman had raised $3.71 million and held $2.62 million in her campaign account. Kistner’s receipts totaled $1.08 million with just under $488,000 cash-on-hand.