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Lawsuit filed over Minneapolis policing ballot question

MINNEAPOLIS — Three Minneapolis residents are suing the city over a ballot question that would eliminate the police department in the wake of George Floyd’s death, arguing it misleads voters about key aspects of the proposal.

Two of the plaintiffs are former City Council member Don Samuels and his wife, Sondra, who oppose the movement to defund the police. The couple were part of a successful lawsuit against the city after the number of police officers fell below the minimum requirement set in the charter.

Attorney Joseph Anthony wrote in a court petition that the question as worded “hides” information from voters that would help them understand it.

It’s the second time this summer that the city has been sued over the ballot question. A judge earlier tossed out an explanatory note that the city had sought to attach to the ballot question that aimed to highlight some of the measure’s effects.

Attorneys for the city said they were reviewing the lawsuit.

Soon after Floyd’s death last year, activists tried to get a question on the November ballot to abolish the Minneapolis Police Department, but ran out of time. A well-funded group of activists and several City Council members are trying again this year.

Their initiative  would ask voters in November to replace the police department with a “public safety department” that would employ licensed peace officers “if necessary.”

The proposal was written by a political coalition called Yes 4 Minneapolis, which brought the first successful lawsuit against the explanatory note. The group argued that the city didn’t have the authority to include the note and that the language was misleading.

The Yes 4 Minneapolis proposal would remove language in the city charter that requires Minneapolis to keep a police department with a minimum number of officers based on population. The city would then create an agency responsible for “integrating” public safety functions “into a comprehensive public health approach to safety.” The new agency could have police “if necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of the department.”

The plaintiffs in the new lawsuit argue that the question should mention that, if approved, it would remove the minimum funding requirements for police; a reference to the police chief’s job; and a line that gives the mayor “complete power” over police operations, the  Star Tribune  reported.

The lawsuit asks the courts to block city, state and Hennepin County officials from issuing ballots that include the current question. They want a judge to send the question back to the city for revision.

Early voting in the city’s November election begins Sept. 17.