Minnesota Supreme Court rules Minneapolis police ballot question will count

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Minneapolis police ballot question to count, reversing a lower court order tossing it out on the eve of early voting.

Justices took a little more than 24 hours to decide since agreeing to a speedy review of the case on Wednesday afternoon. The decision ends a week of legal uncertainty over the ballot question, which activists pushed in the wake of George Floyd's 2020 murder.

"Victory!" Yes 4 Minneapolis, the political group that petitioned to get the question on the ballot, tweeted after the ruling. "Minneapolis residents will get to decide to vote #YesOn2 this election!"

The order was written by Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, but it does not say how each of the other five justices voted. Justice Margaret Chutich did not take part in the case. With the early voting period hours away, justices said they would follow with a formal opinion later.

The court gave no specific critique about Hennepin County District Judge Jamie Anderson's Tuesday ruling, in which Anderson called the ballot language "unreasonable and misleading" and blocked Minneapolis from counting votes on the question.

The question asks voters if they want to 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 a newly formed public safety department.

The Supreme Court's order was the second of the day. Earlier Thursday, justices said Minneapolis did not need to send warning notices -- which Anderson had required -- telling voters not to vote on the police question.

Minneapolis election officials rushed 8,000 copies of a ballot insert to the City Hall print shop late Wednesday to comply with Anderson's order requiring notice to voters. Election staffers were preparing to work throughout the day Thursday to stuff the inserts into mail ballot envelopes before the Thursday morning Supreme Court decision.

The partial ruling bought the Supreme Court more time to consider the broader question -- whether the votes would ultimately count. Minneapolis elections officials said they wanted a final decision before the start of early voting.

"We’re very, very hopeful that we get that decision from the Supreme Court either way today, so that before voters start casting ballots tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. they have assurance will my vote be counted or not," City Clerk Casey Carl told reporters at the city's early voting center Thursday morning.

Three city residents had sued over Minneapolis's ballot language, arguing it did not tell voters enough about the outcome of a "yes" vote. Wednesday, their attorney, Joe Anthony, said he was hopeful the Supreme Court would give all the parties a chance to rewrite a ballot question together.

The Supreme Court didn't see it that way.

In a statement, Mayor Frey wrote: "This is the right call. The charter amendment itself is fundamentally bad policy. But that doesn't change the fact that the petitioners and city officials have met their legal requirements. Minneapolis residents deserve the opportunity to weigh in this fall and bring this debate to a close so we can move forward with clarity for our residents' safety."