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Republican who died of COVID-19 last month wins North Dakota state legislative election

And the state’s attorney general says the governor — who tried to immediately fill the seat left vacant by the election of the dead candidate — has no authority to do so.

David Andahl won election in North Dakota after dying of the coronavirus.
David Andahl won election in North Dakota after dying of the coronavirus.

No matter how you feel about any of the candidates elected Tuesday with the help of or despite your vote, you can sleep soundly knowing that at least your candidates passed the most basic test of having been alive and breathing.

Some voters in North Dakota can’t say as much for their choice of Republican David Andahl, who won election as a state representative even though he died Oct. 5 after being sick for several days with COVID-19 as his state has been hit hard by the virus in recent weeks.

Andahl, 55, and a fellow Republican were elected to two open House seats Tuesday over a pair of Democratic candidates in a sprawling rural legislative district north of Bismarck.

He’d remained on the ballot even after his death in part because early voting already had begun weeks earlier.

His mother Pat Andahl told the Bismarck Tribune that she was unsure how he contracted the virus because he had been “very careful.”

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said Wednesday he was appointing Wade Boeshans, president of the coal company BNI Energy, to the seat Andahl won.

But Burgum has no authority to fill the vacancy, said North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who lost to Burgum in the Republican primary race for governor in 2016. He called the governor’s assertion that he’d made an appointment to replace Andahl “both inaccurate and untimely.”

Stenehjem had issued an opinion last month saying that, if Andahl were elected, the office would be deemed vacant.

Under state law, a committee representing the party of the previous officeholder would fill the opening by appointment, which could put ousted Republican state Rep. Jeff Delzer back in the seat he had held since 1995. Voters within the district also are allowed to petition for a special election, according to Stenehjem.