MINOT, N.D. — This week we learned that Dave Andahl died.
He was a candidate for the state House in District 8, which has been a battleground for some fierce internecine politics in the NDGOP. Andahl was one of the candidates backed by Gov. Doug Burgum to take out longtime Republican incumbent Jeff Delzer.
Delzer and Burgum have clashed over budget issues over the past four years, and Andahl had Burgum's money at his back when he and running mate Dave Nehring defeated Delzer in the June primary.
After learning of Andahl's death, many (including this humble observer) assumed that he would remain on the ballot and if he won would be replaced by the local NDGOP committee.
This is, after all, the long-established protocol for filling vacancies in the Legislature.
The problem is, that's the protocol for replacing people who already hold a seat in the Legislature. Andahl hadn't been elected yet, and while his name cannot be removed from the ballot (they're printed; people are already voting), he also can't win.
What everyone has missed is Article IV, Section 5 of the state constitution, which makes it clear that to be eligible for election to the Legislature, you must be, on the day of election, a qualified elector.
Something Andahl cannot be.
The NDGOP has been encouraging voters in District 8 to cast a ballot for Andahl anyway, and that's not an unreasonable thing to do. If the above-referenced section of the constitution didn't exist, it would have amounted to a vote to let the local NDGOP committee choose a replacement.
That was the likely outcome. This is a deeply Republican district, located squarely in rural coal country.
But that section does exist, and Andahl cannot be a qualified elector on Election Day.
So what now?
This is unprecedented, at least in modern state politics, so there isn't an outline we can follow, but I'm assuming Andahl has to stay on the ballot if for no other reason than voting has commenced and you can't reprint the ballots.
If we still voted only on Election Day, reprinting ballots would be a possibility but, alas, that's a thing of the past.
If Andahl stays on the ballot, votes for him aren't valid. They're wasted votes.
It seems the only option Republicans have left, and it's not a very good one, is to mount a write-in campaign and hope there are enough voters who a) haven't already voted and b) can be convinced to support a last-minute write-in candidate to hold off the two Democratic candidates in the race.
That could work, if you squint your eyes, but it would be difficult to pull off even in a district where legislative candidates only get a few thousand votes.
Democrats have a real opportunity here to get a rare win in western North Dakota. Not on merit, mind you, but almost by default.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.