The legislation was inspired by the 2012 Rochester City Council president election. Assistant House Majority Leader Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, authored the bill with the goal of making sure other communities don't find themselves in the awkward position of having a dead candidate's name on the ballot. In June, longtime Rochester City Council President Dennis Hanson died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm. Hanson had filed for re-election, so, under state law, Hanson's name could not be removed from the ballot and the filing period could not be reopened. That left one living candidate on the ballot — Jan Throndson, a retired maintenance mechanics supervisor at the Federal Medical Center.
Ultimately, Hanson's family and friends campaigned on his behalf to force a special election so voters would have a choice between multiple candidates on the ballot. Rochester attorney Jeff Thompson also launched a write-in campaign. Hanson ended up winning the election.
Norton's bill would allow for a candidate's name to be removed from the ballot in a nonpartisan race if the death occurs more than 84 days before the general election. A five-day filing period would open up, and there would be no primary. It also aims to make sure voters have a choice on the ballot. If a candidate ends up withdrawing within two days of filing for office, leaving only one candidate or no other candidates on the ballot, a five-day filing period would open up.
The Minnesota House Elections Committee approved the bill Thursday on a voice vote with no discussion. It now heads to the Minnesota floor for a vote. Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, has introduced a similar measure in the Senate.
Norton attributes the bill's easy passage to other lawmakers understanding the tough situation Rochester faced as a result of recent changes to the state's election law.
"People understood that problems were going to come up ," she said. "We just serve as the sad and unfortunate example that forces the issue, maybe faster or sooner than anyone thought."
Meanwhile, in Rochester, Thompson on Wednesday filed as a candidate for the upcoming Rochester City Council president special election.
He joins the council's interim president, Randy Staver, and Throndson as candidates. Staver and Throndson filed on the first day of the filling period, which was Tuesday. The last day to file is Feb. 5.
The election is March 19.