A federal judge says the congressional election in Minnesota’s Second District is back on for Nov. 3.
The decision, issued just 25 days before the election, marks yet another unusual twist in the hotly contested race for the suburban Twin Cities seat.
The November matchup between Democratic U.S. Rep. Angie Craig and Republican challenger Tyler Kistner was already one of the state’s most closely watched congressional contests. But it gained newfound national attention in late September with the unexpected death of Legal Marijuana Now candidate Adam Charles Weeks, which upended the race by triggering a little-known state law delaying the vote to February.
Secretary of State Steve Simon said at the time that votes cast for the race would not count in accordance with that law, even though ballots had already been printed and, in some cases, returned to election officials.
The seat would have remained empty when Congress returned in January, until voters picked a new representative in the 2021 special election.
Craig, the incumbent, filed a lawsuit to block the delay and keep the vote on the November ballot. On Friday, she celebrated the ruling as an “enormous victory for the people of the Second District.”
“In this case, the decision was clear — Minnesota does not have the authority to alter the date for federal elections,” Craig said in a statement. “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.”
Kistner’s campaign opposed Craig’s move. In a statement, he said he plans to appeal the decision, citing confusion caused by Simon’s public comments that residents of the district need not vote on that race on their ballot because of the delay.
“Based on the previous statements from Secretary of State Simon, numerous voters have reached out to our campaign and stated that they did not vote in the Second District race because they were told their vote would not be counted on November 3rd,” Kistner said.
Early voting began on Sept. 18. But voters who submitted their ballot early without making a choice in the congressional race do have some recourse. Under state law, Minnesotans who vote absentee can pull back their ballot at their county election office and cast a new one up until 14 days before the election.
Kistner also said that the announced postponement led him to cancel “numerous” TV and digital advertising buys and to hold back from sending out voter contact mailings. “Because of the way this has played out, my campaign will be appealing ... to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to make sure that every Minnesotan has an opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choosing,” he said.
Under state law, the death of a major-party candidate less than 79 days before an election requires a postponement and special election. The Legal Marijuana Now Party narrowly qualified as a major party in Minnesota based on past election results.
The ruling from U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright grants Craig’s request that state officials go ahead and count votes cast this November, citing the likelihood that her argument that the federal law dictating the date of federal elections will supersede the state statute.
“Given the overwhelming importance for Minnesota’s Second Congressional District voters to be able to vote in the November general election and to have uninterrupted representation in the United States Congress, the public interest weighs in favor of granting Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction,” Wright said in her ruling.
The final outcome could have political implications for the contest for the suburban swing district. Craig, a freshman Democrat, is seen as benefiting from a November vote, when more voters are likely to turn out for the presidential election. A delay could have given political newcomer Kistner more time to connect with voters in the district, which includes south metro suburbs and part of rural southeastern Minnesota.
On Friday, Simon encouraged voters in the district to assume for now that the contest is on.
“Voters should continue to vote this race on their ballots, and pursuant to the district court ruling, those votes will be counted,” he said.