BISMARCK — North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger went to the state attorney general's office Monday, Oct. 11, looking for clarity on how to manage a legislative election in which a leading candidate died last week.
After David Andahl, a Republican House candidate in the rural District 8 north of Bismarck, unexpectedly died from COVID-19 Oct. 5, Jaeger said that it was too late to remove his name from the ballot. At the time, Jaeger said that if Andahl receives enough votes to win a seat in the North Dakota House of Representatives, then the seat would be treated like a vacancy, and the district Republican Party could appoint someone to fill the spot.
But a week later, Jaeger has requested clarification on the ambiguous House race from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. His letter to Stenehjem asks for an opinion on whether votes for Andahl will count, whether a vacancy should be declared if he wins and how that vacancy should be filled if it occurs.
"Our understanding is still the same," Jaeger told Forum News Service. "However, what I think and what my understanding is doesn't have the force of the law."
Jaeger said that numerous parties have raised questions about his interpretation of the state century code in the week since Andahl died, and he requested an opinion from Stenehjem to put legal backing into his office's management of the district race.
Since Andahl's death, North Dakota writers on both sides of the political aisle have raised questions about the secretary of state's extrapolation on existing laws. Specifically, they argue that Jaeger's interpretation ignores a provision of the North Dakota Constitution that requires an elected lawmaker to be a "qualified elector" on Election Day.
"There's just a lot of speculation out there, so it's just best to have it clarified," Jaeger said. "People need to know whether their votes will count."
Republican candidate Dave Nehring and Democratic candidates Linda Babb and Kathrin Volochenko will also appear on the ballot for the District 8 seat.
Jaeger said that he expects the attorney general to release an opinion on his office's questions by the end of this week.
Readers can reach reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at email@example.com.