A repeat of the Paul Wellstone tragedy of 2002 would produce a delayed election, not a rushed campaign with a substitute candidate, under a bill approved by the Minnesota House on Wednesday.
An elections bill approved by a 74-60 vote changes procedure should a candidate die or become incapacitated close to the date of the election.
Wellstone’s death in a plane crash on Oct. 25, less than two weeks before he was to face re-election to the U.S. Senate, resulted in the selection of former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale to replace him against challenger Norm Coleman, who won.
Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-Hopkins, sponsor of the bill, said the new procedure would be to delay the election in such cases until the following February. In the case of a gubernatorial race, he said, the incumbent would continue to serve until a successor was selected. The change also would mean that candidates who wished to drop out due to late-developing scandal could no longer do so.
“Dropping off the ballot because of unflattering press or a scandal, that will no longer be permitted,” Simon said. The bill attracted only two GOP votes, but Simon expects more when the final version returns from conference committee. Gov. Mark Dayton has said any election-law changes must have bipartisan support.
The bill also:
• Expands absentee voting by stating that voters no longer need give a reason for doing so. Under current law, absentees must state a reason for being absent from their precincts on Election Day. “It means they can vote absentee for reasons of convenience,” said Simon.
• Creates a pilot project for testing the concept of electronic pollbooks. This is a way of identifying voters using state ID pictures that election workers can call up on computers.
• Lowers the percentage of vote margin needed to trigger an automatic, state-paid recount in statewide elections. Currently a recount is triggered when the margin is as close as one-half of one percentage point. The new standard would be one-fourth of one percentage point for statewide races.
The Senate elections bill is awaiting action by the full Senate.
The House also debated and defeated a separate bill that would have put Minnesota in the column of states committed to electing the president according to the results of the national popular vote. It failed on a 71-62 vote.