Just three days before early voting is set to begin, a judge has thrown out the contentious ballot question language relating to the future of policing in Minneapolis.
In a 17-page order Tuesday, Hennepin County Judge Jamie Anderson for the third time struck down the language put forward and approved by Minneapolis City Council earlier this month, and which was noted vetoed by Mayor Jacob Frey.
It follows a legal challenge by three Minneapolis residents, including former city council member Don Samuels and his wife, nonprofit CEO Sondra Samuels, who have been among the leading opponents to the efforts to replace Minneapolis Police Department with a Department of Public Safety.
In her ruling, Anderson said that the new ballot question "does not ensure that voters are able to understand the essential purpose of the proposed amendment," noting that it is "unreasonable and misleading."
Her decision is forcing quick action from the city council, which now has to scramble to respond to the ruling ahead of the start of early voting on Friday.
Council president Lisa Bender, who was among the councilors who voted in favor of the revised language, said the city is now "pursuing an expedited appeal process."
"Thousands of Minneapolis voters completed the signature process to propose this ballot question and the people have the right to vote on this important question this year," she added, with the question having been placed on the ballot following a petition including more than 22,000 signatures.
The question struck down by Anderson read as follows:
City Question #2
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?
And it also contained the following 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.
In granting an injunction, Anderson said that the question was "so complex that voters cannot be expected to understand the meaning or essential purpose" of its implications.
It's been pointed out that there are no shortage of examples of past ballot questions in Minneapolis that have been difficult for voters to understand, as recently as last November.
Others have pointed out that another of the questions on this year's ballot, related to a shift to a "strong mayor" style of governance in the city that would give Mayor Frey more power, is arguably more confusing yet is not subject to the same objections from Frey or supporters of the "no" vote.