Mpls. council revises ballot language on policing after judge's order

A large stack of boxes sit on the sidewalk.
Boxes of petition signatures gathered by Yes 4 Minneapolis sit on the sidewalk before being delivered to the Minneapolis city clerk on April 30. On Tuesdsay, a judge struck down ballot language that would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new agency.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Updated: 6:50 p.m.

After a judge struck down ballot language Tuesday aiming to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new agency, the City Council passed new language for the proposed charter amendment on a 12-1 vote.

The judge said the previous wording was misleading and unworkable.

“The court finds that the current ballot language is vague, ambiguous and incapable of implementation, and is insufficient to identify the amendment clearly," Hennepin County District Judge Jamie Anderson wrote. "It is unreasonable and misleading.”

Anderson issued the order just ahead of a looming deadline for ballots to go to the printer. The judge wrote that the proposal was likely to create chaos if it took effect as intended just one month after the November city election.

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The revised ballot language — with a four-sentence long explanatory note — was submitted to Hennepin County and the Secretary of State’s Office minutes before the 3 p.m. deadline.

Paragraphs of suggested ballot language aimed to replace MPD
Revised ballot language that would remove and replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new agency. The City Council drafted the language Tuesday afternoon after a judge rejected the previous wording, saying it's "unreasonable and misleading.”
Courtesy of the Minneapolis City Council

Yes 4 Minneapolis, the coalition behind the public safety proposal, initially planned to appeal the ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court but ultimately decided to let the new wording stand.

“For us, it is most certainly the priority that the people of Minneapolis get to vote on the thing that 22,000 of them said they wanted to be able to vote on,” said Yes 4 Minneapolis spokesperson Minister JaNaé Bates.

Yes 4 Minneapolis also responded to the judge’s ruling via a thread on Twitter.

City Attorney Jim Rowader said the Hennepin County Elections Office could change or refuse to use the revised ballot language if they feel it is "substantially similar" to the wording struck down earlier Tuesday. Hennepin County election manager Ginny Gelms said her office received the approved language from the city before the deadline and that the ballots have been sent for printing.

Mayor Jacob Frey, whose veto of the rejected wording was overridden, didn’t oppose the new language based on an earlier draft recommended last month by the city attorney’s office and city clerk.

“Our obligation, my obligation under the law, is to provide the voters with fair and accurate language that tells the consequences of what voting yes on this charter amendment would actually do,” Frey said at a press briefing Tuesday afternoon. “The council has now abided by the judge’s order in getting to a transparent place.”

Frey had said the previous language "failed to meet the most basic standards of transparency.”

The proposal had its roots in the “defund the police” movement that gained steam after last summer's police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Supporters said the ballot question would not abolish policing in Minneapolis, just remove charter requirements that they argued blocked moves toward more police accountability and racial justice. But critics, including Frey, said it left out crucial details for what policing in the city would look like going forward.

Yes 4 Minneapolis urged its supporters to stand firm and contact their council members immediately “to make sure our elected officials know we still expect to vote on fair and balanced language this fall.”

People hold boxes in the air for a photo.
Members of groups making up the Yes 4 Minneapolis coalition hold boxes of petition signatures in the air for a photograph before delivering the signatures to the city clerk in Minneapolis in April.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

The injunction to keep the language off the ballot was sought by former City Council member Don Samuels, his wife, Sondra, and businessman Bruce Dachis.

“This is a victory for the hundreds of thousands of Minneapolis residents who will now not be misled by vague and confusing ballot language,” Don and Sondra Samuels said in a statement Tuesday.

Their attorney, Joseph Anthony, called Anderson's ruling a “courageous and correct decision.” He said the council members who supported the language intentionally kept it vague in hopes that more people would vote for it.

“Basically what the judge said was, you've got to make it clear so that people can see what they're voting on,” Anthony said.

The case was the second time this summer that the city was sued over the ballot question. The judge earlier rejected an explanatory note that city officials had sought to include on the ballot to highlight some of the proposal's effects, saying the note could have been read as either an endorsement or a warning.

The proposal has caused concerns among some centrist Democratic leaders that it could harm the party not just locally but nationwide, as Republicans use fears over public safety to try to woo back suburban swing voters. U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Gov Tim Walz spoke out against the measure last month, while two prominent progressives, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and state Attorney General Keith Ellison, endorsed it last week.