A state law enacted a decade ago threatens to scramble Minneapolis elections, forcing City Council members to contemplate running for office twice in four years.
Local officials must decide in the coming months how — and whether — to comply with the law, which was intended to ensure council wards reflect the city’s population changes.
The decisions made 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.
“There is no really perfect solution here and no great options,” Council Member Andrew Johnson said during a recent public hearing.
Minneapolis is split into 13 wards, each evenly divided by population based on census figures. After the results of the decennial survey 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 inside the district.
The next census will occur this year, but the results won’t be released until April 2021 at the earliest, seven months before the next City Council and mayoral elections.
Census data is often released late. And the city’s districts 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.
All of that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to hold elections under the new wards in 2021, according to a presentation City Clerk Casey Carl gave to the council.
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 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.
So, local officials must decide how to proceed. And they’re doing so with little legal guidance, because the law hasn’t been tested in court.
Much of the decisionmaking power lies with the Charter Commission, a body appointed by the Hennepin County District Court. The commission’s members are contemplating requiring council members to run for a two-year term in 2023. They would run again for a four-year term in 2025, resyncing their election schedules with those of the mayor and other city officials.
The commission has scheduled a public hearing on the two-year election proposal, to be held at 4 p.m. on March 4, in Room 317 of City Hall.
The City Council appears to be divided on how to proceed.
During a public hearing earlier this month, some members expressed support for a measure that would require all elected city officials to run for a two-year term in 2021. They debated what would be best for voters and whether certain proposals would give incumbents an unfair advantage.
Some also briefly discussed the possibility of a lawsuit.