ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — A Minnesota congresswoman has sued state election officials challenging state law in a bid to get the race for her seat back on the November ballot.
In a federal suit filed Monday afternoon in federal court, Democratic Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) incumbent Angie Craig says the death of a third-party candidate should not cause the election for her congressional seat to be delayed until February.
The campaign for Minnesota’s Second Congressional District came to a sudden stop Friday after the sudden death of Legal Marijuana Now Party candidate Adam Weeks triggered a state statute that delays elections in the event that a major-party candidate dies too close to Election Day. Secretary of State Steve Simon — also a member of the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party — announced Friday that the election for the south-central Minnesota district would be postponed until Feb. 9.
Craig says the statute is preempted by federal law, places an undue burden on voters and would unnecessarily leave the district without a representative.
Her lawsuit is the first to test the statute, which was passed by a DFL majority in 2013 to prevent a repeat of the 2002 U.S. Senate election. In that election, popular DFL Senator Paul Wellstone’s death less than two weeks before the election led to a loss to GOP candidate Norm Coleman. Simon, then a state legislator, championed the bill in the Minnesota House.
Craig and co-plaintiff Jenny Davies, a voter in the district, say federal law requires elections for U.S. representative every two years unless a seat is vacant. That law has exceptions for exigent circumstances, they note but none apply here. “The death of one candidate in a race does not preclude Minnesota from holding an election for the Second Congressional District in the regularly scheduled general election,” the plaintiffs, represented by attorney Charles Nauen of Minnesota firm Lockridge Grindal Nauen, say in their complaint.
“The only impediment to Minnesota’s holding the election for the Second Congressional District as required by federal law is Minnesota’s own law.”
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright, a Barack Obama appointee to the District of Minnesota.
Craig said in a statement that delaying the election and requiring her to step down would “deprive Minnesotans of their seat at the table at a time when critical legislation affecting our state will be debated.”
She urged voters to mark their ballots in the Nov. 3 election, despite Simon’s earlier assurances that votes in the race would not be counted. Ballots have already been sent out in Minnesota, making it too late to take the contest off.
Billy Grant, a spokesman for Craig’s Republican opponent Tyler Kistner, said in a statement that Craig is “trying to play politics with Minnesotans’ voting rights.”
“Despite Secretary of State Simon being crystal clear that there will be a special election in February, Angie Craig is trying to rewrite laws to disenfranchise voters,” Grant wrote. “The people in Minnesota’s Second Congressional District will not be fooled.”
A spokeswoman for Simon’s office declined to comment on pending litigation. Leadership at the Legal Marijuana Now Party did not reply to requests for comment.
Legal Marijuana Now chairman Tim Davis said he is sympathetic to Craig’s position but that his party would push for the process outlined by Simon after Weeks’ death. The party plans to meet this weekend to begin the process of picking a candidate before a Nov. 10 deadline.
“I understand where she’s coming from, there are more people voting in November than there will be in February,” Davis said. “But that’s the way they made the law.”
Davis added the Legal Marijuana Now party had no plans to get involved in Craig’s suit.
The seat, which Craig won from Republican Jason Lewis in 2018, is a battleground for Minnesota’s largest parties. The district includes several suburbs in the southern Twin Cities metro and stretches southeast along the Wisconsin border.
Craig’s 2018 victory disrupted a lengthy streak of Republican dominance in the district. A July poll showed her with a seven-point lead over Kistner, with 6% of voters supporting the deceased Weeks in the same poll.
Legal Marijuana Now cleared the hurdle of becoming a major party under Minnesota law in 2018, when state auditor candidate Michael Ford garnered 5.28% of the statewide vote for the office. It shares that status with fellow marijuana-legalization party the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party, of which it is an offshoot. The Grassroots party does not have a Second District congressional candidate.