Man who died of COVID-19 wins legislative seat in US Elections

November 4, 2020
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David Andahl died of COVID-19 in early October, just as the virus was pummeling his home state of North Dakota. But that did not keep the 55-year-old rancher from winning his race for the state House of Representatives on Tuesday, WashingtonPost reports.

With an apparent victory in North Dakota’s 8th District, Andahl’s election marks an unusual overlap between two of the most consequential events in the United States this year: a pandemic that has killed at least 232,000 people in the United States and the unprecedented election season it upended in the process.

In-person political conventions over the summer were all but scrapped. Get-out-the-vote efforts went remote, too, and many voters opted to submit mail-in ballots instead of waiting at the polls. Yet with results trickling in around the country into Wednesday morning, few of the virus’s political consequences seem as tangible — or as shocking — as Andahl’s posthumous win.

A cattle rancher and land developer, Andahl had spent 16 years serving on the zoning and planning commission in Burleigh County, including eight years as its chair, according to the Bismarck Tribune. Earlier this year, he won a heated GOP primary against longtime state Rep. Jeff Delzer, who chaired the chamber’s powerful Appropriations Committee.

The district north of Bismarck has two House seats, and Andahl teamed up with another candidate, Dave Nehring, to earn endorsements. During the campaign, he won the backing of two of the state’s most influential Republicans, Gov. Doug Burgum and Sen. Kevin Cramer.

Cramer, a noted Trump ally, put his support behind the Bismarck rancher “because we need more Trump Republicans in the State Legislature,” the Star Tribune reported.

When the coronavirus reached North Dakota, Andahl — who was already grappling with several health issues — was “very cautious,” his family wrote on Facebook. They did not elaborate on what medical challenges he was facing.

As the largely rural state saw a sharp increase in coronavirus cases this fall — at one point leading the country in the number of new cases per capita — Andahl contracted the potentially deadly virus. After four days in the hospital, he died Oct. 5.

“He has been a public servant for many years and was looking forward to the opportunity to serve in the state legislature,” his family said on the candidate’s Facebook page. “We are sad that his wish will not come to pass.”

According to his obituary, Andahl, who also worked as a racecar driver and instructor, was so passionate about the home state that he was sometimes called “Dakota Dave.”

North Dakota election authorities initially had no precedent on how to address the death of a candidate so close to Election Day, and the state’s attorney general issued an opinion later in October on how to proceed: Should Andahl win, he said, the local Republican Party would be responsible for filling the vacant seat until a special election.

On Tuesday, he appeared to secure a comfortable victory in the race for two seats, securing 5,901 votes, or about 35.53 per cent of the total, according to North Dakota state election data. Only Nehring won more, with 6,763 votes.

Two opposing Democratic candidates, Kathrin Volochenko and Linda Babb won less than 12 per cent and 10 per cent of the vote, respectively.

Posthumous victories like Andahl’s are rare in the United States, though not entirely unprecedented. Since 2000, at least six dead candidates have won elections at nearly every level of government, from mayoral races in small-town Tennessee to a U.S. Senate seat.

Most recently, Dennis Hof, a brothel owner and reality TV star, won a seat in the Nevada state legislature in 2018. About three weeks before his victory, Hof, who had been backed by Roger Stone and Grover Norquist, was found dead at his Love Ranch brothel outside Las Vegas.

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