Suit accuses city of adding misleading language to ballot question on police

Ballot question gives voters option to eliminate MPD as charter department

People carry boxes across a street.
Members of the Yes 4 Minneapolis coalition carry boxes of petitions calling for a city charter amendment replacing the Minneapolis Police Department with a Department of Public Safety in Minneapolis on April 30.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Supporters of an effort to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety filed a lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis. They’re alleging that the city doesn’t have the authority to attach an explanatory note to their ballot initiative and that the city’s language in the note is “misleading.” 

The note mirrors some of the language in the ballot question and lists changes the amendment would make to the city’s charter, including eliminating a minimum staffing level for the police department and removing the police chief. 

The group Yes 4 Minneapolis succeeded in getting the charter amendment on November’s ballot by gathering more than 22,000 signatures. The ballot initiative would replace the Minneapolis Police Department in the city’s charter with a new Department of Public Safety that supporters say would allow a public health approach to safety in the city. 

The Minneapolis City Council approved the ballot initiative earlier in July, even as some council members expressed concern about language in the explanatory note provided by the city attorney’s office. 

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Yes 4 Minneapolis communications director Minister JaNaé Bates said the note “puts a thumb on the scale,” and said voters should instead consider the exact language in the ballot question. 

”We want to make sure that every single person in Minneapolis, every single voter, has the opportunity to make that clear and concise choice without extra subjective interpretation,” Bates said. 

The group’s lawsuit argues that the city doesn’t have the authority to adjust the language on the ballot.

“The City Council’s ‘Explanatory Note’ is not permitted by the Minnesota Constitution, constitutes a governmental overstep in authority, and opens the floodgates to the inclusion of more politically motivated ‘explanations’ on future ballots,” attorney Terrance W. Moore wrote in the suit. 

The group is also arguing that the language in the explanatory statement is “a misleading partial description” of the proposal. 

Minneapolis City Attorney Jim Rowader said in a statement to MPR News that the city does have authority to include the note on the ballot. 

“The City accurately and fairly fulfilled its ministerial duty of setting the ballot language for this proposed amendment of the Minneapolis City Charter,” Rowader said. “Mirroring the language of the proposed amendment and as authorized by law, the inclusion of an explanatory note will help inform voters who choose to participate in this year’s municipal election.”

Voters will weigh in on the public safety ballot initiative in November.