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A Republican man who died of COVID-19 last month won a seat in the North Dakota House of Representatives, defeating two Democratic women. Candidate David Andahl, 55, succumbed to the virus during early voting, when it was too late to take his name off of ballots.
The morning after polls closed, Republican Gov. Doug Burgum appointed the president of a coal mining company to fill the seat — before the election was certified — drawing criticism from both parties.
Andahl won 36 percent of the vote. Republican Dave Nehring secured the other House seat — two representatives are elected from each district — in North Dakota’s 8th district outright with 41 percent of the vote. Democrats argue that Kathrin Volochenko, who won 11 percent of the vote, is entitled to Andhal’s seat. Linda Babb, another Democratic contender, received 10 percent of the vote.
Volochenko, a native of Napa Valley, California, moved to North Dakota in 1979 after serving in the United States Air Force. She served two terms as the mayor of Kief City and owns and operates a long-haul trucking company, according to her campaign website.
“By earning the second highest number of votes among qualified candidates, I will cherish the opportunity to represent District 8,” she said in a statement. “The governor’s announcement was inappropriate, and District 8 deserves a representative who will stand up for their interests, not the governor’s.”
Kylie Oversen, the chair of the North Dakota Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party, says Volochenko should have earned the seat. She said Democrats are consulting with legal advisers on next steps.
“The election is not yet official, but the governor already made a macabre power grab in an attempt to keep the seat he thought he had already bought by meddling in his party’s primary,” Oversen said in a statement. “The plan appears to have been in motion for weeks while the COVID-19 crisis and hospital bed shortage grew more dire.”
In an email to The 19th, Volochenko said she had no comment pending a response from her party leadership as to what their options are.
When Andahl died, Republican Secretary of State Al Jaeger reached out to Republican Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem for guidance. Stenehjem issued an opinion stating the “vacancy” would be decided by a state law that says the district committee of the Republican Party shall fill the seat within 21 days of notification. But the governor threw a wrench into these plans when he announced he’d appointed Wade Boeshans, president and general manager of BNI Energy. His argument is that vacancy statutes do not apply here because Andahl never occupied the seat.
“After extensive research, it became clear that the only legal and constitutionally viable way to fill the District 8 seat is through gubernatorial appointment,” Burgum said in a press release. The governor said he made his decision through a “careful” review of the North Dakota Constitution, North Dakota Century Code, relevant case law, legislative history and attorney general opinions.
Stenehjem called Burgum’s news release both “inaccurate and untimely” — the governor has no authority to declare an election, the attorney general said in a statement, underscoring his October opinion should stand until such a question is presented to and decided by the courts.
“Despite the governor’s efforts to sidestep the statutory process and the state Constitution, I have advised Secretary of State Jaeger to follow the opinion,” Stenehjem wrote.
North Dakota is in the bottom 10 states for female representation in the state legislature, with 31 women across the House and Senate making up 22 percent of the state’s legislative branch, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. Republicans kept their supermajority in the state legislature, winning nearly all of the November races, achieving a 40-7 balance in the Senate and an 80-14 majority in the House of Representatives.