September 24, 2020
Could the Death of a Candidate from the Legal Marijuana Now Party Impact the Presidential Election?
There is tragic news out of Minnesota this afternoon – officials announced that the 2nd Congressional District candidate from the Legal Marijuana Now Party, Adam Weeks, had passed away. The death of a candidate, even from a lesser-known party, would make headlines no matter the circumstances, but in this case, Mr. Weeks’ untimely passing could have consequences that far exceed the boundaries of this southeastern Minnesota district.
In 2002, Paul Wellstone, the U.S. Senator from Minnesota, was killed in a plane crash just 11 days before election day. Minnesota state law required that a deceased candidate be stricken from the ballot and replaced by another person chosen by the state party, so Wellstone’s death set off a scramble to replace him. Former Vice President Walter Mondale was chosen by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and was defeated by Norm Coleman, but the process of replacing the candidate left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
This prompted Minnesota to change the law, and now, if a major party nominee dies within 79 days of Election Day, the election results will not be reported in November as usual, but a special election would be held on the second Tuesday of February.
That brings us to today and the definition of a “major party.” There are few voters in the U.S., and much less in Minnesota, who identify the Legal Marijuana Now Party as a “major party.” However, statutorily, in order to be classified as a major party in Minnesota, a party only has to exceed 5 percent in a statewide election In 2018, during the State Auditor’s race, when Michael Ford ran as a Legal Marijuana Party candidate and garnered 5.28 percent of the vote. Thus, Mr. Weeks’ death today will result in the election for the 2nd Congressional District being delayed until February 9, according to Minnesota state law.
Why Does This Matter Outside of Minnesota?
While it is unlikely that control of the House of Representatives will come down to this race, in which Rep. Angie Craig (DFL) is seeking to retain her seat – Republicans believe they have a decent chance to unseat her – it could actually have an impact on the presidential race.
In the event of a 269-269 Electoral College tie, the vote goes to the House for a vote of state delegations. Democrats currently have a 5-3 delegation lead, but if the 2nd District does not have a representative, their lead would drop to 4-3. Long-serving Rep. Collin Peterson (D) represents the 1st Congressional District, which was won by President Trump by 30 points, and Republicans the race is considered a toss-up. If Democrats were to lose the seat, in conjunction with not having a member in the 2nd District, Republicans would have control of the state delegation and would be able to cast a vote for President Trump. Of course, this depends on Democrats and Republicans holding on to all of the other seats that they currently occupy and the Presidential election being tied, which hasn’t happened since… 1800.
There is also a question of whether the Minnesota state law is legal. Federal elections are set by federal statute and requires that the election of “Representatives… to the Congress” to be elected on the “Tuesday next after the 1st Monday in November, in every even numbered year.” While it seems likely that there will be litigation over the issue, between now and a resolution, the political world will keep one eye on Minnesota.