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Judge issues injunction on new MPD ballot question, calls it still 'misleading'

Unless an appeal is granted before early voting starts Friday, ballots will include a notice stating that votes on the question won't be counted.

MINNEAPOLIS — A Hennepin County judge again ruled against a ballot question on the future of policing in Minneapolis Tuesday, saying the rewritten question was still "unreasonable and misleading."

Judge Jamie Anderson's Tuesday court order states that the question, which the Minneapolis City Council updated after a similar ruling last week, is "so complex" that voters can't be expected to understand its "meaning or essential purpose." 

According to the order, the new language doesn't clearly identify the proposed charter amendment, doesn't help the voter easily or accurately understand what is being voted on, and does not identify the amendment's essential purpose -- "all of which will mislead voters and make it unjust." 

Anderson granted the petition to "correct" the ballot question. She also granted an injunction against the new question, but said it can remain on the ballots currently being printed.

According to the order, unless an appeal is granted before early voting starts Friday, ballots will include a notice stating that votes on the question won't be counted. Furthermore, county officials would not be allowed to consider or release results of votes on the question.

An attorney for Yes 4 Minneapolis, the group behind the ballot question, said the group's legal team has appealed and asked for an accelerated review. 

"I am confident that the Supreme Court will be able to review this decision, and will make the correct decision under the law," the attorney, Terrance W. Moore, told KARE 11 in a phone interview. "We would expect to have a hearing very soon, on their schedule. But they have not indicated how quickly they will hear it."

RELATED: What happens if "Vote Yes" wins MPD ballot issue in November?

Just last week, Judge Anderson struck down an earlier version of the ballot question, saying the language was so vague it could mislead voters in violation of state law. The Minneapolis City Council held an emergency meeting that day to pass the new, longer version of the question voters will see. It also came with an explanatory note.

Tuesday's decision comes after a group of Minneapolis citizens, led by Sondra and Don Samuels, took the issue back to Judge Anderson asserting that it still fails the clarity test.

"The judge really righted what the city council got wrong," Sondra Samuels said in an interview after Tuesday's ruling. "We're satisfied right now. The judge said, 'unreasonable, misleading.'"

During Monday's hearing, the Samuels' attorney Joe Anthony expanded on his clients' views. 

"Is the clear and essential purpose of the charter amendment clearly expressed in the language of the ballot question? It hasn’t been expressed because the City Council decided to camouflage it in words that never appear in the charter amendment," Anthony told the judge Monday. 

Anthony also posted on his Zoom screen a copy of a Steve Sack political cartoon that appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, based on the Magic 8 Ball filled with questions without clear answers.

"Who’s gonna be in charge if you vote yes? Reply? Hazy. What will voting yes mean for funding public safety? Can’t say," Anthony said, quoting from the cartoon.

He asserted the new ballot language doesn't mirror closely enough what would be changed in the city charter. For instance, it doesn't mention the minimum staffing of 1.7 officers per 1,000 residents.

But Ivan Ludmer, an assistant city attorney representing the City Council, argued that the new language makes it clear how the city charter will be amended. If the ballot question passes, the requirement of a police department will be removed from the city charter and replaced with a requirement of a new department of public safety.

"Whether it's unclear is a conclusion. How do you reach that conclusion that it's unclear? What makes it unclear?"

He said Anthony's clients are trying to go beyond telling voters how the charter will change and tell voters how that will affect the future. He said future effects are never part of ballot questions and can be speculative. 

"The petitioners want to identify not how the proposed amendment changes society and that’s not what the law requires and that’s not appropriate for a ballot question," Ludmer explained.

Terrance Moore, representing Yes 4 Minneapolis -- the group that collected petitions to force the referendum changing the charter -- looked to tamp down the theory that the police department will suddenly cease to exist 30 days after the election when the charter changes.

He said the MPD was created by a city ordinance, and it will continue to exist until the city council changes that ordinance.

"The ballot question is should the City Charter be amended to remove the police department? Not shall the police department be removed from the city entirely," Moore told the court.

"The amendment will remove the police department from the City Charter. It will not, in and of itself, remove it from the city.  The City Council will have the option of having a police department, but not a charter obligation to do so. There’s no evidence the City intends to terminate its police department before establishing another way to meet its policing obligation."

Language changes

The updated language approved by the City Council Sept. 7 reads as follows:

"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 amendment being briefly indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made part of this ballot? Yes__  No__ "

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 original language struck down by Judge Anderson on Sept. 7 read like this:

"Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to strike and replace the Police Department with a Department of Public Safety which could include licensed peace officers (police officers) if necessary, with administrative authority to be consistent with other city departments to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety?"

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