Minn. Supreme Court Approves Ballot Question to Eliminate Minneapolis Police Department

Posted: Sep 17, 2021 10:00 AM
Minn. Supreme Court Approves Ballot Question to Eliminate Minneapolis Police Department

Source: AP Photo/Christian Monterrosa

After weeks of legal challenges and disagreements over the wording to be printed on ballots, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Thursday evening that votes cast by residents of the state's largest city on a ballot question — whether the Minneapolis Police Department should be eliminated and replaced with a public safety agency — could be counted. 

Pushed by the group Yes 4 Minneapolis, the ballot question would amend the city's charter to remove requirements for a police department staffed by a certain number of officers and instead develop "a comprehensive public health approach to safety."

The question will appear on Minneapolis voters' ballots as:

Department of Public Safety

Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to remove the Police Department and replace it with a Department of Public Safety that employs a comprehensive public health approach to the delivery of functions by the Department of Public Safety, with those specific functions to be determined by the Mayor and City Council by ordinance; which will not be subject to exclusive mayoral power over its establishment, maintenance, and command; and which could include licensed peace officers (police officers), if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety, with the general nature of the amendments being briefly indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot?

Explanatory Note:

This amendment would create a Department of Public Safety combining public safety functions through a comprehensive public health approach to be determined by the Mayor and Council. The department would be led by a Commissioner nominated by the Mayor and appointed by the Council. The Police Department, and its chief, would be removed from the City Charter. The Public Safety Department could include police officers, but the minimum funding requirement would be eliminated.

On Tuesday, a judge in Hennepin County, Minnesota, sided with those challenging the elimination of police, calling the question's wording "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," Judge Jamie Anderson wrote in her decision.

Anderson's ruling came just three days before early voting began in Minneapolis, triggering a quick appeal by Yes 4 Minneapolis to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea issued a short decision Thursday reversing Judge Anderson's ruling on the grounds that opponents' legal challenge "does not meet the high standard" to keep votes on the question from being counted. The Chief Justice said a longer explanation would follow, but that the quick reversal was necessary "so as not to impair the orderly process of voting."

Don Samuels, a Minneapolis resident and former city council member who challenged the ballot question in court, said after the Supreme Court decision that his "was not an attempt to keep the question off the ballot; it was to enlighten the voters by forcing the City Council to clean up the language and be honest about what it will do."

As early voting gets underway in Minneapolis on Friday, the group All of Mpls released its first ad urging residents to vote "no" on eliminating their city's police department and instead pursue reform.

"The ad features Teto Wilson, a North Minneapolis resident, barbershop owner, and community leader," a release from All of Mpls explains. "The ad focuses on the need to reform the police, not eliminate them. If passed, Ballot Question 2 would amend the city charter to eliminate the police department, the position of police chief, the minimum funding and staffing requirement for police, and replace it with a Department of Public Safety with no requirement for police and no defined structure, function, or plan."

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