This November, Minneapolis voters will likely be asked if they want to add a City Council election in 2023, normally the middle of council members’ four-year terms, to conform to a state law that is scrambling the city’s election cycle.
The City Council unanimously voted Friday to let residents decide how to proceed, and Mayor Jacob Frey will likely sign off on the effort as well, according to his office.
If voters approve the measure, council members will run for election in 2021, 2023 and 2025. The proposal is meant to ensure that the city complies with a decade-old state law designed to ensure that council wards — and their elected leaders — reflect the city’s population changes.
If voters reject the effort, it’s not entirely clear what would happen. The state law conflicts with the city charter, and courts haven’t yet been asked to rule on the issue.
The Nov. 3 vote will determine how often Minneapolis voters go to the polls and how many millions of dollars they pay to conduct elections. For candidates, the decisions will dictate their campaign and fundraising schedules and, for some, whether they even choose to run at all.
Minneapolis is split into 13 wards, each evenly divided by population based on census figures. After the results of the 2020 census come in, the Minneapolis Charter Commission draws new ward lines to reflect the updated population counts. Each ward is represented by one council member, who must live in the district.
The U.S. Census Bureau is collecting information this year, but the results likely won’t be released until July 2021, a few months before the next City Council and mayoral elections. The data will be late, at least in part, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The city’s wards can’t be established before new districts are drawn for the Legislature and Congress. Public hearings must be held, and candidates must have time to campaign.
It would be difficult, if not impossible, to hold elections under the new wards in 2021, even without the pandemic, City Clerk Casey Carl has said.
In the past, city officials could hold an election after a census year using the old wards, and then implement the new ones in the election four years later. But because of what’s now dubbed the Kahn Rule, that’s not always possible anymore.
In 2010, then-state Rep. Phyllis Kahn, a DFL member from Minneapolis, pushed a bill through the Legislature that requires Minneapolis and St. Paul to conduct City Council elections in years ending in 2 or 3 after a census is taken — in this case, in 2022 or 2023 — to ensure that voters are properly represented.
The law applies only to the City Council, and not to the Park and Recreation Board or to citywide offices, such as mayor or the Board of Estimate and Taxation.
It appears to conflict with the Minneapolis charter, which requires council members to run in 2021 for four-year terms. The conflict would repeat every 20 years.
If the new proposal passes, City Council members elected in 2021 would run again in 2023 to keep their seats. They would run for a four-year term in 2025, resyncing their election schedules with those of the mayor and other city officials.
Voters will likely also decide a separate question of whether they should change a city charter provision that dictates when special elections can be held.
The charter now says a special election must be held within 90 days of an elected official’s resignation. State law says most special elections can be held only on one of five specific dates. The two don’t always align.
Former Council Member Abdi Warsame’s resignation — when he left to helm the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority — highlighted the conflict.
Voters would be asked to decide whether to change the charter to require special elections to be held on a state-sanctioned Election Day that is “more than 90 days from the date of the vacancy.”
The City Council also voted Friday to send that measure to the ballot, and Frey is expected to approve that decision.