MINOT, N.D. — District 8 has become a political battleground this election season. That was true even before Republican state House candidate Dave Andahl died, tragically, as a Republican faction backed by Governor Doug Burgum and his personal wealth took on sitting Republican incumbent Rep. Jeff Delzer.
Andahl and his running mate Dave Nehring defeated Delzer both at the local convention and on the June primary ballot, but then Andahl passed away.
That left a question about the votes already cast for Andahl, who died after early voting commenced, not to mention the votes that would be cast for him.
The state constitution is clear on this subject. Article IV, Section 5 of the constitution says that a candidate is only eligible to serve in the state Legislature if they are a qualified elector on election day.
Someone who has passed away cannot be a qualified elector.
Except, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has ruled that they can be. In an opinion requested by Secretary of State Al Jaeger, one that doesn't mention Article IV of the state constitution at all, Stenehjem finds precedent in the laws of other states to conclude that votes for Andahl are still valid and that if he wins the state law controlling the death of people already in office.
"Each individual elected or appointed to the legislative assembly must be, on the day of the election or appointment, a qualified elector in the district from which the member was selected and must have been a resident of the state for one year immediately prior to that election," is what the state constitution says on this matter.
Note the word "must."
There are no exceptions in the law for someone who has died. A person who is dead cannot be a qualified elector.
How can Stenehjem wrote an opinion on this matter without addressing this constitutional language?
It is awful that Andahl passed away. He would have made a fine lawmaker.
It's terrible that the people of District 8 would, if we follow the letter of the constitution, be represented by a Democratic lawmaker who they almost certainly would not have elected given what we know of the ideological proclivities of that part of the state.
As a conservative, I don't relish the idea of adding more Democrats to the Legislature, nor am I convinced that these particular Democrats are in any way ready to serve, given that they probably didn't expect to be elected.
But the law says what it says.
Stenehjem got this one wrong.
The Democrats, or anyone else with standing, should sue.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.