Election 2020: Minneapolis City Questions 1 and 2

Minneapolis is voting on two questions that would amend the city charter. Neither is a question about policing, because the charter commission decided that as an un-elected body they were under no obligation to act in accordance with the wishes of the citizenry and didn’t put any questions about policing on the ballot. I bet that some of the charter commission members read my blog, and so before going onward to talk about the amendments that are on the ballot, I would just like to take this opportunity to say to them: why, hello there, fuck 10 out of the 15 of you

The questions on the ballot read as follows.

CITY QUESTION 1 (Minneapolis)
Redistricting of Wards and Park Districts

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?

CITY QUESTION 2 (Minneapolis)
Special Municipal Elections
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?

You can vote yes or no. The two questions are voted on separately (and although they are both about elections, they’re unrelated.)

CITY QUESTION 1 (Minneapolis)

Fundamentally, you can read this question as follows:

“Should the City Charter be amended to make City Council members run for a two-year term in 2023 so that in future elections, Minneapolis can continue to vote for City Council representatives and Mayors at the same time?” (Although obviously it’s not just 2023: this would apply in future decades as well.)

The best coverage of this I’ve found is in MinnPost. Here’s the deal: there’s a census this year. (Hopefully you got counted.) After the census is done, we have to do redistricting, because the whole point of the census is to make sure that representation is apportioned properly based on where you live. At the city level, that means the ward boundaries get re-drawn. (I went looking for a map of the Minneapolis wards and found a MinnPost article from 2012 about the last time they redrew the boundaries.)

Normally, we hold elections for City Council members and the Mayor (and also Park Board and county-level offices and other stuff) every four years. We had a city election in 2017, and we’re having another city election in 2021. The wards are going to be re-drawn in 2022. Obviously, electing people in 2021, redrawing the wards in 2022, and then leaving all those council reps voted in based on the old boundaries in place until 2025 is not ideal. It’s also not legal, because of a state law passed back in 2010 by Minneapolis legislator Phyllis Kahn that requires cities to hold an election sooner than they otherwise would.

Under the current process — if Minneapolis does not pass this charter amendment — here’s what will happen. The census finishes. In 2021, Minneapolis elects a mayor for a four-year term and 13 city council reps for a two-year term. In 2022, the wards get re-drawn. In 2023, there’s a new election for city council, using the new ward boundaries. There isn’t a mayoral race (because the Minneapolis city limits don’t get re-drawn) but the 2023 City Council elections are for a four-year term. So then in 2025 there’s a mayoral race but not a city council race. In 2027 there’s a city council race but not a mayoral race. In 2029 there’s a mayoral race but not a city council race. In 2031 there’s a city council race for a two-year term again and in 2033 they sync back up for two cycles only to get thrown off again after the city elections of 2041.

If Minneapolis does pass this charter amendment, here’s what will happen instead. The census finishes. In 2021, Minneapolis elects a mayor for a four-year term and 13 city council reps for a two-year term. In 2022, the wards get re-drawn. In 2023, there’s a new election for city council, using the new ward boundaries, but everyone on the council runs for another two-year term. In 2025, there’s a city election for mayor and city council and everything else and this time the city council people run for four-year terms again. The next time a census throws all this off we solve the problem the same way: two-year terms for city council reps as needed.

Why does it matter if they’re in sync or out of sync? There are kind of two major issues. First of all, city races are already kind of low-turnout, and for whatever reason, people tend to be more invested in the mayor than in their city council rep, so turnout would probably drop a lot for the years when it’s just the City Council on the ballot. The second issue is, this makes it much easier for currently-serving City Council reps to run for mayor, because they don’t have to give up their council seat unless they win. Is that bad, or good? Per a MinnPost article from last December, Lisa Bender thinks it’s bad: “If you talk to department heads or city staff about that, they turn white as a ghost and say, ‘Oh my God, that sounds terrible,’ because it already feels like a pretty political environment around here, and that would just create more political tension probably. I would expect, like, looking forward into the future that we would see significantly more council members running against the sitting mayor if we had staggered terms.”

I think it is generally desirable to have the mayoral race and the city council race happen in the same year: I think people do a better job of paying attention to politics when a bunch of elections happen at once. So I would vote YES on this question.

(If you’re staring at the question again and saying “wait, what’s with the bit about allowing the use of the new boundaries for elections in the same year?” — one of the other things this charter amendment does is to say that in theory if people really hustle and re-draw the ward boundaries in time to use the new wards for the city elections, they are allowed to do this. I do not know why they left that part in this amendment; it was pretty questionable whether they could pull this off in 2021 before the pandemic hit and it’s now clearly impossible. They could have just taken that part out and maybe penciled it in for the ballot in 2030, and they’d have had a marginally less-confusing amendment. Here’s an article from last December discussing that part. It’s the same article the Lisa Bender quote came from.)

(If you’re wondering about Park Board seats: those aren’t mentioned in state law, so I assume everyone on the Park Board will just serve a four-year term after standing for election in 2021 and no one will worry about it. So they’ll stay synchronized with the mayor regardless.)

CITY QUESTION 2 (Minneapolis)

Right now, state law and the city charter are in conflict in a way that could come up if someone holding a city elected office resigned or dropped dead in a certain very inconvenient window.

State law says that special municipal elections must be held on state-approved election days. Those days are are the second Tuesdays of February, April and May; the day of the primary election in August; and the day of the general election in November.

The city charter, however, says that a special election must be held within 90 days of a City Council (or Mayoral) vacancy occurring. So, let’s say that some city council rep made the mistake of going running in St. Paul and got eaten by our bear on November 4th, the day after the general election. Minneapolis would be required by its charter to hold an election within 90 days, but 90 days from November 4th is February 2nd, the first Tuesday in February.

See what I mean by this problem requiring certain very narrow windows? Anyone who was resigning to take another job would just hold off making it official for a week. But people do sometimes die unexpectedly. (Or resign in situations where they would actually love to make things harder, rather than easier, for their former colleagues.)

Passing this amendment is a good idea. I would vote yes on this as well.

Since in both cases the stakes are relatively low, one question I had was whether refusing to pass these amendments would inconvenience the Charter Commission in any way. (Because, as noted above, I’m pissed at them.) The answer seems to be no. Might as well pass them, because one solves a known problem, and one solves a potential problem.


If you’ve read all the way to the bottom: I took the time to look over on Donors Choose for some Minneapolis public school teachers who could use some financial help during These Difficult Times and in particularly with distance learning. Ms. Stone is a teacher at Cityview Elementary in North Minneapolis. She will be teaching third graders this year, and to help them succeed with distance learning, she is requesting a set of Chromebooks for her class. To equip this class of children with the basic technology they will need for distance learning will require another $5,396 to be raised by October 3rd. Can my readers raise that much? If not, can they at least get it to within sight of the finish line so a corporation or foundation will be inspired to swoop in and match our donations? I think it’s worth trying.

(I don’t have a patreon or a ko-fi but I take a lot of satisfaction from seeing projects fund after I point people at them. Please donate!)

7 thoughts on “Election 2020: Minneapolis City Questions 1 and 2

    • Maybe? But there’s a lot of offices for people to learn about; the way things are split up (Governor two years off from Presidential, City/County stuff in odd years) makes sense to me. YMMV.

  1. Quick question on the fundraiser. Thanks for highlighting it. I’m a bit confused, because as a parent of a MPS child who’s in distance learning 2nd grade this year, we had the choice of a district supplied iPad OR Chromebook. Why isn’t this MPS school having the same option? It is a district wide policy? I looked on the link you have, and it doesn’t really explain it. My tax dollars are already supporting this, as far as I can tell.

      • Thank you for the great followup to my question. I’m going to donate to the headphone fund, as I know how important they are in our own house for learning. I appreciate the great work on following up with the teacher, and am happy to contribute to the other needs you’ve highlighted. I’m also happy to hear that the kids at Cityview are getting the technology that my kids are at Kenwood.

  2. I read “City Question #1” on the ballot, and immediately started searching the net for a translation. I didn’t expect to actually find one that was concise, comprehensible, and slightly, pleasantly, snarky. On behalf of myself, and all my neighbors who are going to ask me what the hell “City Question #1” means: Thank You!

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