Should Minneapolis voters be allowed to simply vote to change the city's laws?

Council Member Robin Wonsley thinks so, and there appears to be enough support on the City Council to move the idea toward a public hearing in mid-March — and a potential ballot question for voters in November.

Here's a primer.

What's the idea?

Wonsley wants voters to amend the city charter to allow residents to vote directly to enact new city ordinances and repeal existing ones. Such a process is often called citizen initiative, ballot initiatives or popular referendum.

Currently, voters can force the council to consider an issue via a ballot question, but only the council can actually make law. This is what happened with Minneapolis' rent control question in 2021. Voters approved a question saying the council should take the idea on, but the council has yet to pass anything — to the frustration of supporters like Wonsley.


It's a "power to the people" argument, a form of direct democracy currently favored by many on the left end of the political spectrum in major American cities.

"Ballot initiatives give residents another option when they are faced with bureaucratic stalling tactics, vetoes, and other barriers," Wonsley wrote in a newsletter to constituents, describing the process as "a check and balance on City Hall."

Who else does this?

Remember rent control? While Minneapolis voters told the council to deliberate on the issue, St. Paul voters simply made it happen. That same night, St. Paul voters enacted a rent control policy by approving a more specific — and powerful — question on their ballots.

That's because St. Paul's charter allows for ballot initiatives and referendums. In fact, so do a number of other Minnesota cities, including Duluth, Bloomington and Brooklyn Park, according to a City Council staff analysis. Other cities, including Rochester, for example, operate like Minneapolis.

How would it work?

Wonsley hasn't produced specifics yet. In most referendum communities, a threshold of voter signatures is needed to get a question on the ballot. Sometimes, the City Council or mayor need to sign off.

Is there opposition?

There has yet to be a full-fledged discussion on the idea, but Council Member Linea Palmisano recently expressed initial reservations, arguing that citizen initiatives actually weaken the council by bypassing it, and that, she said, actually weakens the council's ability to check the power of the mayor.

What's next?

Specific wording for Wonsley's proposal will be completed in a few weeks, and the City Council is eyeing a mid-March public hearing. (The council recently voted to hold a March 4 hearing, but that date appeared likely to be postponed for procedural reasons.)

If the council approves the idea, it could be subject to a veto by Mayor Jacob Frey, who hasn't publicly weighed in. The council could override his veto.

If it survives, it would go to the Charter Commission, whose support is needed to place the question to voters in this fall's general election.