Two referendums on Minneapolis ballot

The Southwest Journal’s voter’s guide includes stories on the three competitive races for the Minneapolis School Board and questionnaires with candidates running for the U.S. House and the state House and Senate. We also include a rundown of everything you’ll see on your ballot, including an explanation of the city’s two referendums. You can read our full 2020 voter’s guide here.

Two questions are on the ballot for Minneapolis voters. 

One of those questions is relatively simple. 

It asks voters if the city charter should be amended to mirror state law, which requires all cities to hold special elections for council and mayoral vacancies on already state-approved election days. Those days are the second Tuesday in February, April and May, as well as the day of the primary election in August and the day of the general election in November. 

The other question requires a bit more unpacking and has to do with something known as the Kahn rule. 

Named after former longtime DFL state Rep. Phyllis Kahn, the 2010 law requires Minneapolis to hold elections as soon as possible after ward boundaries are redrawn. 

So City Council members won’t only be on the ballot in 2021 as part of the city’s regularly scheduled municipal election. They will also have to go before voters in 2023, after the city’s new ward boundaries are in place. So council elections are about to be decoupled from mayoral elections, which — because the mayor is elected citywide — aren’t affected by the Kahn rule. 

Minneapolis officials don’t love that, for a couple of reasons. It would mean the end to the city’s “unified ballot,” which has the entire City Council and the mayor — as well as the Board of Estimate and Taxation and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board — facing election at the same time. 

City officials are worried about the added cost of more elections, lower turnout in a council-only election and the potential for voter burnout. 

City officials first tried, and failed, to get the state to give Minneapolis more options for complying with the Kahn rule. The city then made a plan to rush census-driven redistricting before the 2021 City Council election so the Kahn rule wouldn’t interrupt Minneapolis’ council terms. But delays to the census caused by the pandemic made that impossible. 

The proposed charter amendment isn’t about undoing the Kahn rule, but rather about trying to realign City Council elections to get them back in sync with mayoral elections.

If the amendment passes, Minneapolis council seats would be on the ballot in 2021, 2023, 2025, 2029, 2033, 2037 and 2041, with the last of those also being for a two-year term. It’s unclear what would happen if the amendment fails; the election schedule could end up being decided by the courts.

Got it so far? It just gets a little more complicated.

The ballot question, which is actually titled “Redistricting of Wards and Park Districts,” asks voters if City Council ward and Park Board district boundaries can be redrawn the year after a census and if those re-established jurisdictions can be used to hold an election in that same year. 

If the measure is approved, that part of the question would allow council ward redistricting to be done quickly after a census — avoiding two-year council terms, an idea that was considered earlier this year before the pandemic made it impossible. 

The ballot question also asks if the city can make adjustments to new council and park district boundaries after the state Legislature redraws its boundaries. 

And, finally, the single ballot question asks voters to clarify that a “regular election” means a “regular general election” — and not a special election. The change in language ensures the city charter is in compliance with the Kahn rule.  

But it’s an all or nothing question, so voters get all of these changes with a “yes” vote — and none of them with a “no” vote.

Solomon Gustavo is a reporter at the nonprofit newsroom MinnPost.