Court refuses to delay vote in Minnesota congressional race

Published 6:50 am Saturday, October 24, 2020

A federal appeals panel on Friday rejected a Minnesota Republican candidate’s request to delay voting in his congressional race to February due to the death of a third-party candidate, handing a legal victory to the Democratic incumbent.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Tyler Kistner’s request to put on hold a lower-court decision that moved the election in Minnesota’s competitive 2nd District — currently represented by U.S. Rep. Angie Craig — back to Nov. 3 after it was initially postponed to February.

The panel granted Kistner’s request for an expedited appeal, but the late timing meant even a hurried appeal would not be resolved before the election. Kistner immediately said he would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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The Craig-Kistner race, for a seat that stretches southward from St. Paul suburbs, was thrown into confusion after the September death of Legal Marijuana Now Party candidate Adam Weeks. Since that party has major status in Minnesota and the death was sufficiently close to the election, it triggered a state law calling for a delay until February.

Craig, expected to lose a turnout advantage if the election were moved, won a lower-court ruling to block the delay, and Kistner immediately appealed.

The 8th Circuit judges ruled there are strong reasons for a uniform date for federal elections, and there must be compelling circumstances for a state to be permitted to change the date. Because of that, the court said, “we do not think Kistner is likely to succeed on the merits of his contention.”

Kistner urged voters to continue to vote on Nov. 3 while he pursues an appeal. He blasted Craig, saying she “caused confusion and uncertainty around this election in what is nothing more than a desperate attempt to try to save her political career,.”

Craig said the court’s ruling guarantees that the election winner will be seated in Congress in January, ensuring the district doesn’t go temporarily without representation.

“The courts have spoken – now it is time for (voters) to decide,” she said.

Attorneys for Kistner, a Marine Corps veteran making his first run for office, had said the lower court’s order is “sure to disenfranchise thousands of voters” who believed there would be no election Nov. 3.

Craig continued to urge her supporters to mark their ballots for her and other Democrats, even while the date of the 2nd District race was in limbo.

Early voting in Minnesota began Sept. 18. Those who skipped a vote in the 2nd District when they voted early or absentee had until Tuesday to go to their county elections office to have their ballot spoiled and receive a new one.

Craig is expected to benefit from the high turnout on Election Day. Kistner’s chances may have been better in a special election, in which Republicans tend to have a greater advantage from the lower turnout.

The Minnesota law calling for an election delay following the death of a major-party candidate was passed years after Sen. Paul Wellstone’s death in a 2002 plane crash. Wellstone died just 11 days before the election, triggering a frenetic race in which Republican Norm Coleman defeated former Vice President Walter Mondale, who was tapped to take Wellstone’s place as the Democratic candidate.