Judge rules Minn. 2nd congressional district election will proceed in November

U.S. Rep. Angie Craig sued after Minn. Secretary of State Steve Simon postponed election to February.

Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN) speaking at DC news conference
Rep. Angie Craig speaks during news conference discussing the in Washington, D.C. on January 29, 2019. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

The election for Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional district will proceed in November, a federal judge ruled Friday, overruling a Minnesota state law that would have postponed the election to February after the death of a marijuana legalization party candidate. 

U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright found in favor of first-term DFL U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, who sued Secretary of State Steve Simon, Minnesota’s top election official. Constituent Jenny Winslow Davies also signed on to the lawsuit.

Wright agreed with the argument put forth by Craig’s attorney that federal law preempts Minnesota’s 2013 law in regards to the death of a major party candidate. Moreover, Wright wrote that voters in the 2nd district would face “irreparable harm” because of a lack of representation that would occur.

Absent the new judicial ruling, the Feb. 9 special election would have occured after a new Congress is sworn in.

“Absent  a  preliminary  injunction,  Davies  will  also  suffer  irreparable  harm  by  not  having  her  vote  count  such  that  she  is  required  to  vote  twice,  and  by  the  absence  of  uninterrupted congressional representation in the United States House of Representatives,” Wright wrote. 

She added: “Courts routinely recognize that restrictions on voting rights constitute irreparable injury.”

In a statement, Craig called the ruling “an enormous victory.”

She added: “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.”

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon postponed the election after the sudden death of Adam Weeks, the Legal Marijuna Now candidate, last month. Weeks’ party achieved major political party status in Minnesota after the 2018 election when its state auditor candidate received more than 5% of the vote. 

Under a Minnesota 2013 law change, the death of a major party candidate in a congressional race within 79 days of the general election automatically postpones the election to the following February. 

Republican challenger Tyler Kistner, whose attorney argued in the case for postponement until February, was thought to have a better chance of winning in the swing district in a February special election. That’s because in November Craig will have the advantage of national political dynamics that do not currently favor Republicans. 

In a statement, Kistner said his campaign would appeal the decision.

“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,” Kistner said in a statement. “We are confident that the Minnesota State Law will be upheld during the appeals process.”

Kistner’s statement also said that their campaign had heard from voters who did not vote in the race after Simon had announced last month that the votes would not be tabulated after Weeks’ death.

The Legal Marijuana Now Party had nominated Paula Overby to replace Weeks, though it’s unclear how the ruling will affect the nomination.

Tim Davis, chair of the LMNP, said in a phone interview that the decision is a bad precedent.

“The major parties have no love for democracy,” Davis said. “Both Republicans and Democrats are evil institutions and need to be repealed.”

Davis said their options were limited, explaining that they had just notarized paperwork on Friday to move forward with Overby’s nomination in the special election.

Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.