2020 Election Recap

Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A.

While Governor Tim Walz (DFL) and the other constitutional officers were not on the ballot in Minnesota this year, all 134 State House seats and 67 State Senate seats were, as well as President, a United States Senate seat and all members of the United States House of Representatives. The 2020 election has been one of the most contentious in recent memory. From national races down to state and local races, the disagreements have been sharper and, in many cases, louder between candidates, political parties and stakeholders.

One of the unusual facets of this election is the incredibly high number of absentee and early votes. By the end of Monday, November 2, nearly 1.84 million Minnesotans had already cast their ballot—that equals 62% of the total number of votes cast in the 2016 presidential election. Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon had announced that mailed ballots postmarked by election day would be counted if they were received within seven days. However, the Federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that any ballots received after Election Day must be segregated from other ballots, in case those votes are challenged in court. Secretary Simon has said that the number of outstanding ballots will be released at the state House level and that any late-arriving ballots will be tabulated and the updated results would be posted each day. Expect further court action if results are close or change due to late-arriving ballots. Additional information from the Secretary of State’s office regarding the tabulating of absentee ballots is available.

Important: Please note that all of the results and analysis are based on the published results as of Wednesday morning. There remain an unknown number of accepted, but yet uncounted ballots. Results are subject to change based on these ballots that have not yet been counted, as well as additional ballots that are received in the next week.

Federal Races

President: By voting for Joe Biden, Minnesota retained its standing as the state with the longest streak of voting for the Democratic presidential candidate. The last Republican who received a majority of Minnesota votes was Richard Nixon.

U.S. Senate: Not surprisingly, Minnesotans also sent Senator Tina Smith (DFL) back to the Senate for her first full term (she had been completing former Senator Al Franken’s term).

Congress: As expected, most incumbent congressional members sailed to an easy victory, but there was one notable exception:

District 7: Collin Peterson (D) has represented western Minnesota for three decades. An original founder of the conservative Blue Dog coalition, Peterson is known as the most conservative Democrat currently serving in Congress. As his district has become more Republican over the years, he has been able to fend off challengers, though by increasingly narrow margins. Former lieutenant governor and President of the Minnesota Senate, Michelle Fischbach (R), bested Peterson by a preliminary margin of 53.5%-39.7%. She was considered the strongest candidate Peterson had faced in decades.

Minnesota House of Representatives

Number of Seats                        134
Needed for Majority                    68
Partisan Split before Election      75 DFL, 59 R
Preliminary 2021 Partisan Split   70 DFL, 64 R

In 2018, the DFL took control of the House of Representatives by sweeping most of the districts in the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburbs. Even though many of these suburban seats were long-time Republican bastions, DFL candidates benefitted from strong opposition to President Donald Trump in the mid-term elections. Republicans, by contrast, retained a strong hold on exurban Twin Cities seats and much of rural Minnesota.

In 2020, Republicans needed to pick up nine seats to win back the majority in the House. Once again, the battleground proved to be the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburbs where Republicans targeted the seats they narrowly lost in 2018. House Republicans campaigned on public safety and opposition to Governor Walz’s response to COVID-19. DFLers responded by linking their opponents to President Trump while also campaigning on health care issues. Money was also a big issue in the House races as the DFL outraised their Republican counterparts. Since the Senate Republicans already held the majority, the business community contributions went to the Senate Republicans instead. It was deemed a safer bet to retain Senate control than take over the House.

The House DFL lost a net of five seats but should nonetheless retain control of the House with a 70-64 majority.  The margin of seats may change as final absentee votes are counted. Key races include:

HD 5A: Incumbent John Persell (DFL) / Matt Bliss (R)—Winner Matt Bliss
HD 6A: Incumbent Julie Sandstede (DFL) / Robert Farnsworth (R)—Winner Robert Farnsworth
HD 19A: Incumbent Jeff Brand (DFL) / Susan Akland (R)—Winner Susan Akland
HD 54A: Incumbent Anne Claflin (DFL) / Keith Franke (R)—Winner Keith Franke
HD 55A: Incumbent Brad Tabke (DFL) / Erik Mortensen (R)—Winner Erik Mortensen

With a number of senior House DFLers retiring or losing reelection bids in party primaries, some key committees will have new Chairs. Longtime Ways and Means Chair Lyndon Carlson (DFL-New Hope) has retired, so this important budget committee will have a new leader. There has been speculation that Health and Human Services Policy Chair Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul) or K-12 Finance Chair Jim Davnie (DFL-Minneapolis) might be in line for this committee.

Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) has signaled that she would like to reduce the number of committees because the session will likely be virtual again due to COVID-19. This, however, may not apply to the Health and Human Services policy and finance committees. Speaker Hortman has indicated that these issues will be broken out into multiple committees.

Minnesota Senate

Number of Seats                           67
Needed for Majority                     34
Partisan Split before Election       35 R, 32 DFL
Preliminary 2021 Partisan Split    35 R, 32 DFL

In 2016, Senate Republicans surprised everyone by sweeping into the majority on the coattails of Donald Trump’s near win in Minnesota with a narrow 34-33 majority. This number was expanded to 35-32 after a special election in 2018. Because they were not on the ballot in 2018, Republican senators were spared the Trump backlash in the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburbs. The campaign issues for the Senate were the same as the House. Republicans campaigned on public safety and Governor Walz’s COVID-19 response, while DFLers campaigned on health care and against President Trump.

As of this morning, it appears that the Senate remains in Republican control. In Plymouth, Ann Johnson Stewart (DFL) defeated Greg Pulles (R) in the seat left vacant with the retirement of Senator Paul Anderson (R) and, in the Burnsville/Savage area, Lindsey Port (DFL) beat incumbent Senator Dan Hall (R). Republicans responded with the defeat of Matt Little (DFL) to Zach Duckworth (R) in the Lakeville area. With several close races and likely more votes to be counted, we’ll be watching to see if any close races flip. Key races included:

SD 14: Incumbent Jerry Relph (R) / Aric Putnam (DFL)—Winner Jerry Relph
SD 26: Incumbent Carla Nelson (R) / Aleta Borrud (DFL)—Winner Carla Nelson
SD 27: Gene Dornink (R) / Incumbent Dan Sparks (DFL)—Winner Gene Dornink
SD 34: Incumbent Warren Limmer (R) / Bonnie Westlin (DFL)—Winner Warren Limmer
SD 44: Open seat: Greg Pulles (R) / Ann Johnson Stewart (DFL)—Winner Ann Johnson Stewart
SD 56: Incumbent Dan Hall (R) / Lindsey Port (DFL)—Winner Lindsey Port
SD 58: Zach Duckworth (R) / Incumbent Matt Little (DFL)—Winner Zach Duckworth

If the current Republican majority holds, few changes would occur in key committees. Senators Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) and Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake) are expected to share the Health and Human Services finance committee duties again. However, a number of the Senate races listed above are very close and could shift, depending on whether all of the absentee and early votes have been counted.

2021 Session Preview

The 2021 Legislative Session will convene at noon on Tuesday, January 5th. Legislators will be faced with a number of issues.

Redistricting:  The campaign to win the House and Senate was intense because the winners will control the ability to set House and Senate districts for the next ten years. The DFL entered the campaign with a share of power due to Governor Walz’s four-year term, while Republicans were desperate to win the House and/or retain the Senate. With the House in DFL control and the Senate in Republican control, a neutral redistricting plan is expected and will likely come from the courts.

Budget Deficit/Biennial Budget: In the 2021 Legislative Session, the Legislature must fix a $2.426 billion deficit in the current biennium (FY 2020-2021), which ends on June 30, 2021, and adopt a new biennial budget for FY 2022-2023 with a projected $4.7 billion deficit. The State currently has $2.7 billion in reserves and it is expected that these reserves will be used to fix the deficit in the current biennium. These deficit numbers will certainly change when Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) issues its economic forecasts in November of 2020 and February of 2021. It is possible that these deficit numbers will be lower due to an improving economy. State revenue collection numbers, which are reported every month, are running ahead of projections. With the House in DFL control and the Senate in Republican control, a long protracted budget stalemate is expected. The House will want new taxes as a deficit solution, while these new tax proposals will be vigorously opposed by Senate Republicans. Senate Republicans will propose budget cuts and one-time solutions to close the budget gap.

COVID-19: The ongoing pandemic will continue to overshadow the legislature in 2021. Continuing negotiations regarding appropriate state response is likely, encompassing both public health regulations and financial support for individuals, businesses and other entities.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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