Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
Earlier today, Melissa Gilbert announced that the neck and head injuries she sustained in 2012 will prevent her from continuing as a candidate for Congress in Michigan’s Eighth District. I completely understand, and I wish her all the best as she deals with these health issues.
But here’s an interesting issue: Under the Michigan Election Law, Gilbert’s name will remain on the August primary ballot, and the Democratic Party will not be able to select a replacement congressional candidate until after Gilbert has been nominated in a completely futile primary election. After doing some preliminary research on the matter, I started thinking: does this really make sense?
In Michigan, a congressional candidate may withdraw from his or her race for certain enumerated reasons (such as moving out of the state, physical unfitness, or other disqualification) after having been nominated through the primary process. However, a candidate for Congress may not withdraw before the primary unless the withdrawal occurs within three days of the nominating-petition filing deadline. Only by death may the name of a congressional candidate who has filed nominating petitions, qualified for the primary ballot, and not withdrawn within three days of the filing deadline be removed from the primary ballot and replaced with that of a different candidate.
Since Gilbert has widespread name recognition and no primary challenger who has qualified to appear on the August ballot, she will almost certainly win the Democratic nomination on August 2nd. Thereafter, Gilbert will be permitted to withdraw from the race on account of her medical condition, and a committee of county Democratic Party officers will then have the power to select a replacement candidate to appear in her stead on the November general election ballot.
But when only one candidate from a particular political party has qualified to appear on the August ballot—and then becomes unfit or unable to continue the campaign—why shouldn’t he or she be permitted to withdraw from the race before the primary and have his or her name replaced on the August ballot? Consider a hypothetical, closely contested district in which both the Republican incumbent (with no primary challenger) and his or her Democratic opponent (also with no primary challenger) become permanently physically incapacitated (but do not die) a week or two after the filing deadline. Both candidates would be forced to remain on the August primary ballot, and neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party would be permitted to select a replacement candidate until sometime in August. When a political party has only one congressional candidate on the primary ballot, and that candidate becomes physically unfit sometime before August, shouldn’t that candidate be permitted to withdraw in advance of the primary in the same way that he or she would be permitted to withdraw after the primary? Stated differently, when the candidate’s inability becomes apparent in April or May, why should the party be forced to wait until August to select a replacement? Perhaps the Legislature should amend the Michigan Election Law to allow for the pre-primary withdrawal and replacement of a party’s primary candidate if that candidate becomes unable to continue the campaign.
What do you think?