Questions about ballot questions?

This article was written by Connor Cummiskey

Minneapolis residents have two potential charter amendments on their November 3 election ballots this year.

The meaning of either question can be difficult to parse from the language used on the ballot itself. Both will influence city council elections, with the first addressing the timing of elections following the U.S. Census and the second applying to filling vacancies on the council.

The first question on the ballot applies to the redistricting of boundaries and the timing of Minneapolis City Council elections.

It will appear on the ballot as: “Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to allow ward and park district boundaries to be reestablished in a year ending in 1 and to allow the use of those new boundaries for elections in that same year; to allow ward and park district boundaries to be modified after the legislature has been redistricted to establish City precinct boundaries; to provide that an election for a Council Member office required by Minnesota law in a year ending in 2 or 3 after a redistricting shall be for a single 2-year term; and to clarify that a regular election means a regular general election?”

The question essentially applies to whether or not city council elections should continue to be held in tandem with mayoral elections.

In 2010 State Rep. Phyllis Kahn proposed a bill that became known as the Kahn rule. That rule requires some cities – essentially Minneapolis and St. Paul – to put the entire city council up for reelection if the population of any ward changes by 5% or more after a census. The statute requires council members to be reelected during the first general election after ward boundaries are redefined, but no later than 2022 or 2023.

Currently council members will run for two-year terms in 2021. If nothing changes, they would run for four-year terms in 2023. However, that will decouple the city council and mayoral elections from each other.

If the charter amendment passes, those council members would instead run for two consecutive two-year terms, in 2021 and 2023. They would return to the regular four-year terms in 2025.

 The second question that will appear on the ballot is related to special municipal elections. It is aimed at addressing a discrepancy between the city charter and state law.

The question will appear on the ballot as: “Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to comply with Minnesota election law related to uniform dates for special municipal elections and to provide that a special election be held on a legal election day under Minnesota law that is more than 90 days from a vacancy in the office of Mayor or Council Member?”

As it stands the city charter requires a special election be held within 90 days of a vacancy. However, state law mandates special elections can only be held on certain days more than 90 days after a vacancy.

In 2016 the Minnesota Legislature modified election law requiring all special elections be held on the second Tuesday of February, April, May and August or the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. The only exception to this statute is if the special election is held in response to an emergency or disaster.

If it passes the city charter would be modified to align special elections with the uniform election dates laid out in state statute.