Minneapolis residents will vote on replacing the city’s police department after a last-minute ruling from the Supreme Court, just hours before early voting was set to start.
A Hennepin County judge ruled against ballot language regarding the public safety charter amendment earlier this week, but Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea issued an order Thursday that reversed that decision, confirming that the ballot question would be accepted residents begin early voting on Friday.
The phrasing of the ballot question has been the topic of much debate since it was placed on the ballot after a petition garnered more than 22,000 signatures.
The question asks voters if the Minneapolis Police Department should be replaced with a new department of public safety. This involves amending the city’s charter to eliminate funding and staffing requirements for MPD.
Among those who have brought legal challenges to the ballot question are former city council member Don Samuels and his wife, nonprofit CEO Sondra Samuels.
Hennepin County Judge Jamie Anderson sided with opponents of the question in a Tuesday order, calling the language "unreasonable and misleading."
The decision triggered multiple appeals to the Supreme Court on Wednesday, with those calling for the reinstatement of the question noting that its removal from the ballot has the potential to disenfranchise thousands of voters.
In the order, Gildea stated that the challenges to the question do not meet the standards required to keep it off the ballot.
“The question before us is a legal one,” Gildea wrote.
Political group Yes 4 Minneapolis, which spearheaded the movement to collect signatures to put the question before voters in the first place, called the ruling a victory.
The language appearing on the ballot reads:
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?
It also includes 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.
The language of the question has been amended by the Council multiple times, including after multiple vetos from Mayo Jacob Frey. Frey called previous language vague after the explanatory note was temporarily left out of the question.
While Frey has been an opponent of the charter amendment as a whole, he called the Supreme Court decision the "right call," according to FOX 9.
“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,” Frey said in a statement.