US Rep. Craig asks supporters to vote despite snag in race

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota congresswoman whose race has been roiled by the death of a third-party candidate urged supporters Friday to vote for her and the rest of the Democratic ticket on the November ballot, even though votes in her race won’t count under current circumstances.

In a statement, Democratic U.S. Rep. Angie Craig urged voters to mark their ballots in her race anyway. Minnesota began early voting and started mailing absentee ballots Sept. 18.

Craig is running for reelection against Republican challenger Tyler Kistner in a district that includes suburban and rural areas south of the Twin Cities. Also on the ballot is Adam Charles Weeks, of the Legal Marijuana Now Party, whose death this week triggered a provision in Minnesota law that postpones the contest until a special election in February.

“At this stage, there are still many outstanding questions,” Craig said. “You should continue to vote for the entire ballot, including for this congressional race. I can assure you that I am working tirelessly to get these answers as quickly as possible.”

Secretary of State Steve Simon said Thursday that state law requires a special election if a major-party nominee dies within 79 days of Election Day. Legal Marijuana Now has major-party status in Minnesota. Simon said the special election would be Feb. 9. The seat would become temporarily vacant when Craig’s term ends.

Craig hinted that a legal challenge to the special election may be getting planned.

David Schultz, an election law expert at Hamline University and the University of Minnesota, said the strongest argument for challenging the need for a special election may be that federal law requires uniform days for elections — like the first Tuesday of November. Someone could argue that the state law violates that federal law, he said. The question would then become whether the federal court would agree, or say a state is able to set its procedures for handling the death of a candidate, he said.

Kister issued a statement saying he had directed his campaign to suspend all advertising out of respect for Weeks’ family and friends. The statement did not indicate whether he might be contemplating a challenge. Campaign spokesman Billy Grant said the secretary of state was “very clear” about the law, and they didn’t want to discuss hypotheticals.

Minnesota law was changed in 2013 to avoid a repeat of the state’s frenetic U.S. Senate election in 2002, when incumbent Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash less than two weeks before the election. Democrats replaced him with former Vice President Walter Mondale, who lost to Republican Norm Coleman.