Minneapolis, MN – Just three weeks before early voting is scheduled to begin for the November elections, a judge struck down the ballot language that the city council had approved for the ballot measure to abolish the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD).
“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 in her ruling on Sept. 7, according to Minnesota Public Radio.
“It is unreasonable and misleading,” Anderson added.
Anderson heard arguments from both sides on Thursday in the lawsuit filed by former Minneapolis Councilmember Don Samuels that said the language was too misleading and vague to be put on the ballot, KARE reported.
“Shall the Minneapolis city charter be amended to strike and replace the police department with a Department of Public Safety which could include licensed police officers if necessary, with administrative authority to be consistent with other city departments to fulfill its responsibility to public safety?” was how the wording approved by the council read.
Joe Anthony, attorney for the plaintiff, argued that the language did not clearly explain to voters what they were eliminating, KARE reported.
Anthony said voters couldn’t tell from the wording of the ballot measure that they were eliminating both the police department and the chief of police, that the mayor wouldn’t run the police anymore, or that they would be stripping the minimum number of officers requirement out of the city charter.
“You won’t find that — any of those four things — in any of the language,” the plaintiff’s attorney told the court. “If those future effects can’t be included in this ballot – the future effects of no police chief, no police department, no funding to be ensured – that’s why the question fails to meet Minnesota standards.”
The city council tried to add an explanatory note to the ballot in a last ditch effort to save the language, but the judge wasn’t having it, KARE reported.
But Anderson ruled that the explanatory note could not be put on the ballot.
On Tuesday, she ruled that proposed language for the ballot measure was unworkable shortly before ballots were scheduled to go to the printer, Minnesota Public Radio reported.
The city council was meeting to quickly draft new language for the ballot.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who had opposed the wording that the judge rejected, said the redo gave the council an opportunity to use language that accurately and fairly portrayed what they were trying to do, Minnesota Public Radio reported.
Proponents of abolishing the Minneapolis police were frustrated as this wasn’t the first time their efforts to put the question on the ballot were thwarted at the last minute because of its language.
When the city council first promised to abolish the police department, they made the vow without acknowledging that in order to do so, they would first have to change the city’s charter because it called for a certain amount of police officers for the city.
But when they put their proposed amendment before the Minneapolis Charter Commissioner in August of 2020, commissioners voted to stop the effort to put the question on the November 2020 ballot.
Members of the commission voted 10 to 5 to take another 90 days to review the proposed amendment drafted by the Minneapolis City Council, WCCO reported.
The delay pushed a final decision on the proposed amendment past the deadline for the November ballot, which means the first time Minneapolis voters could consider it would be in November of 2021.
Charter commissioners said the amendment needed more work and that it gave too much power to the Minneapolis City Council, WCCO reported.
They expressed concern the process had been rushed and complained it had been drafted without input from community opposition.
“It’s appropriate to explore transformational changes in the department, but it needs to be done thoughtfully,” Charter Commissioner Peter Ginder said. “That hasn’t been done here.”
The commissioners called the amendment flawed, WCCO reported.
“We have an obligation to make sure that what is going on the ballot gives the voters an informed choice, that they can make a decision in a thoughtful way,” Charter Commissioner Andrew Kozak told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Kozak said he didn’t think the measure on the table before them accomplished that goal.