A Rochester lawmaker is backing a bill that would make it easier to
remove a candidate's name from the ballot if he or she dies after filing
Assistant House Majority Leader Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, introduced the bill today. The goal is to prevent what happened during Rochester's most recent city council president race. In June, long-time Rochester City Council President Dennis Hanson died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm shortly after filing for office. But under state law, Hanson's name could not be removed from the ballot and the filing period could not be reopened. That left one other candidate on the ballot — Jan Throndson. Ultimately, Hanson's family launched a campaign urging voters to vote for Hanson as a way to force a primary election and provide voters with a choice. Rochester attorney Jeff Thompson also launched a write-in bid. Hanson ended up winning with more than 51 percent of the vote. The special election is set for March 19, with a filing period from Jan. 22 to Feb. 5.
Norton's bill would allow for a candidate's name to be removed from the ballot in a nonpartisan race if the death occurs at least 84 days before the general election. A five-day filing period would open up and there would be no primary with all the candidate's names appearing on the general election ballot. She has asked Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, to sponsor the bill in the Senate.
While the legislation is not ideal, Norton said it's the best option lawmakers have to address the problem. Tying their hands is a strict election timeline to ensure there is enough time to mail and receive back military and overseas ballots. The bill also excludes judicial elections from the new provisions because of a recent judge race where 23 candidates appeared on the general election ballot. There is the potential this new law could result in a slew of candidates ending up on a ballot for nonpartisan races, but Norton said this law will only be triggered on very rare occasions and appeared to be the best option available. After working with officials at the Minnesota Secretary of State's office on the bill, she discovered there simply would not be enough time to allow for a primary election if a death happened within 84 days of a general election because of a requirement enough time be available for a recount.
"This was very sensitive and tough for our community. It was tough certainly for Dennis' family to have to go through that, and I anticipate that others will be interested in signing on (to the bill)," she said.