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With Absentee Ballots Set To Go Out In Days, Hennepin Co. Judge Hearing Arguments On Controversial Minneapolis Ballot Question

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- With absentee ballots set to go out on Friday, the fate of a controversial Minneapolis charter amendment ballot question remains unknown. An emergency hearing was held Monday following another lawsuit by the same group arguing that the ballot language is still too vague and misleading. This latest legal challenge could result in some amendment votes not being counted.

The ballot question asks voters whether the city should replace its police department with a department of public safety. The Minneapolis City Council approved new ballot language last week after a judge overruled the previous question.

Petitioners say the new language remains unclear on what the amendment will do and how the changes could be implemented within 30 days of the election. The challenge -- from a group including former City Councilman Don Samuels and his wife Sondra -- says even the revised wording is misleading and should be thrown out.

However, the respondents argue that the motion is not on the merits of the proposed ballot amendments but rather the ballot question.

"There is no plan in place at City Council. In an absence of a plan there doesn't appear to be any security in place," attorney Joe Anthony said. "And in an absence of security there's only chaos and anarchy, and in chaos and anarchy there's violence, and we're seeing it."

However, attorneys for Yes4Minneapolis -- the group that seeks to defund the Minneapolis Police Department -- says the referendum would simply give power to the city council to decide the future of policing in Minneapolis.

"There is no evidence that the city plans to eliminate its police department before establishing another one to meet its policing obligations," Terrance Moore, with Yes4Minneapolis, said.

The judge did not issue an immediate order, saying she'll make a decision as soon as possible.

By law the city and county are required to send out absentee ballots Friday to people who have requested for them. However, the delays could disenfranchise overseas voters, including members of the military. Hennepin County, which is in charge of printing and sending out the ballots, argued in a court filing that if the wording is changed again it could mean not counting the amendment votes at all.

"The county is saying, because of the costs and time constraints, let's send out the ballots anyway, but we won't count the answers to that question," attorney Joe Tamburino said.

The county filing says changing the wording at this point would also cost about $68,000 and the City of Minneapolis would have to pay nearly all of that.

The Minneapolis City Council approved new ballot language for the Minneapolis Public Safety Amendment last week after a judge earlier struck down the previous question. In her ruling, Judge Jamie Anderson blasted the amendment language writing, "it is vague and ambiguous to the point of misleading voters."

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