Judge rejects ballot language on measure to replace Minneapolis police department

Court ruled ballot wording ‘is vague and ambiguous to the point of misleading voters.’

Updated: September 7, 2021 - 10:01pm

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A Hennepin County judge tossed proposal ballot language asking voters if they want to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a department of public safety.

The current language of the city council's explanatory note accompanying the ballot proposal "is insufficient to identify the amendment clearly, it does not assist the voter in easily and accurately identifying what is being voted on, and it is vague and ambiguous to the point of misleading voters, all of which make it unjust," Hennepin County Judge Jamie Anderson wrote.

Bruce Dachis, Sondra Samuels and former City Council Member Don Samuels sued, alleging the explanatory note didn't provide voters with enough context to make an informed decision.

The proposal would ask voters if they want to approve a plan to replace the police department with a new public safety department focused on a “comprehensive public safety approach” that would include police officers "if necessary to fulfill the department’s responsibilities."

Anderson wrote that the parties disagreed on three issues of the current ballot language as to whether: 1. The Minneapolis Police Department will cease to exist as of December 2, 2021; 2. The position of police chief would be eliminated; or 3. A funding mechanism exists for the proposed Department of Public Safety.

"These three issues are additional ambiguities in the Current Ballot Language," the judge wrote. "All of these ambiguities risk creating a 'chaotic situation' in Minneapolis."

Anderson explained:

"For example, does 'striking' the Police Department mean renaming it (as the Petitioners suggest it could be interpreted) or taking it apart, as one would 'strike a set' after a play is done? The end of the Current Ballot Language says ' … to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety.' To whose responsibilities does that refer? The Police Department? The new Department of Public Safety?"

Anderson did not set a new deadline for approving ballot language.

Attorneys for Yes 4 Minneapolis, which supports replacing the police department, had argued the language provided enough information.

The City Council called an emergency meeting Tuesday and passed revised language for an explanatory note.

City Attorney Jim Rowader said the ballot language could still be rejected by Hennepin County if it finds the new note is “substantially similar” to the language rejected by Anderson.

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