Judge strikes down Minneapolis police ballot question

A Hennepin County judge struck down the controversial Minneapolis public safety ballot question late Tuesday and blocked the city from counting any votes on the proposal.

Judge Jamie Anderson said the ballot language, which asks voters if they want to scrap the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with a new public safety agency, was "unreasonable and misleading."

"The Court finds that the new ballot question does not ensure that voters are able to understand the essential purpose of the proposed amendment," Anderson wrote in her order.

Minneapolis City Attorney Jim Rowader said he would appeal Anderson's ruling.

"The City Attorney’s Office is focused on a speedy appellate process to ensure all voters have the opportunity to make known their positions on this critical issue as part of the municipal election this year," Rowader said in an emailed statement.

Sondra and Don Samuels are two of the three Minneapolis residents that filed the lawsuit to change the ballot language to better explain how the charter would change. The couple says it wants voters to vote on the future of policing, but only if they can understand what they’re voting for.

"It’s so confusing, it is chaotic and we are just thrilled that the judge has moved democracy further down the court," said Sondra Samuels, President and CEO of the Northside Achievement Zone.

"Democracy is not simply the right to vote, it’s also the right to know what you’re voting about," said Don Samuels, a former Minneapolis city councilman.

Throughout the process Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has also pushed for changes to the ballot question's language. Following the judge's ruling, his campaign manager stated Frey is still "adamantly opposed" to the charter change, but believes the debate should be settled by the voters.

A spokeswoman for Yes 4 Minneapolis, the political group that successfully petitioned for the question to be on the ballot, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The group had preemptively petitioned the Minnesota Supreme Court to hear the case in the event it lost in Hennepin County.

If Yes 4 Minneapolis or the city appeal and that appeal is pending when early voting starts, the city must tell voters not to vote on this question, Anderson wrote in her ruling.

This is the third version of the ballot language that Anderson has struck down -- but the most consequential, because of the impending start of early voting on Friday. Ballots are at the printer this week, and Hennepin County election officials have said there is no time to reprint them.

A yes vote would change the city's charter, getting rid of the police department, police chief, and the city's required minimum number of police staff. Future city councils and mayors could decide how many police officers should be employed in the new public safety agency.

Three Minneapolis residents filed a lawsuit over the ballot question language, arguing that it did not appropriately explain the effects of a yes vote. Anderson first tossed out a lengthy explanatory note that Minneapolis wanted to include, then said the pared-down second version was too vague.

Attorneys for the three residents, the city and Yes 4 Minneapolis made their arguments before the judge Monday about the third version of ballot language. In the hearing, the city's attorney compared the saga to Goldilocks, voicing frustration over the process of asking the judge to find language that was "just right."