Rob Davis was eager to vote Friday after the weeks of legal twists and turns that dogged the contentious ballot question asking Minneapolis residents whether they want to replace the city's Police Department with a new public safety agency.
"This was just something that I wanted to do to brighten my whole day," said Davis, who supports replacing the department. "I think it's gonna make my cup of coffee that I'm going to get down the street much better."
Davis was among 3,978 Minneapolis voters who cast their votes on the kickoff day of early voting, with about 6.1% doing it in person at the city's polling center at 980 E. Hennepin. They'll decide a widely watched historic race on the future of the city, including issues around policing, rent increase caps and who should run City Hall.
Voting in the municipal races — the first since George Floyd's murder by police on Memorial Day last year — began with a ballot that includes the highly debated question on replacing the city's Police Department with a Department of Public Safety. That issue is drawing national scrutiny in the wake of racial reckoning that emerged in the aftermath of Floyd's killing.
City Council candidate Elliott Payne was first in line to vote at the polling center. He and a core group of volunteers for his campaign downed doughnuts before heading inside to mark their ballots.
They were jubilant, Payne said, to learn Thursday evening that their votes on the policing question would be counted. That's when the state Supreme Court threw out a lower-court decision that would have blocked votes on the question from being counted.
"I'm really excited about voting on the charter amendments, the Department of Public Safety. That's one of the things that really brought me into the race," said Payne, a candidate for the First Ward council seat that represents northeast Minneapolis. "And those are kind of like the two main things I'm focused on."
As early voting was underway, All of Mpls, a group opposing the public safety charter amendment, launched a North Side canvassing program. For weeks, group members have been knocking on doors, telling residents that amending the charter would mean eliminating the Police Department and the police chief's position with no clear plan for what's next. The group said its new 50-person campaign, made up of "all North Side residents with strong community ties," supports police reform that doesn't involve replacing law enforcement.
After forgoing a planned rally, the pro-police group Operation Safety Now distributed voters' guides on social media Friday morning that included a list of candidates and issues they support. "That's been getting a lot of buzz," said Bill Rodriguez, a co-founder of the organization.
Meanwhile, organizers from Yes 4 Minneapolis, which wrote the public safety amendment, worked to turn out early voters, something they weren't willing to do before Thursday's state Supreme Court ruling. The group also rallied supporters outside the Hennepin County Government Center on Friday afternoon to celebrate its hard-fought victory.
"We're celebrating this historic moment," said JaNaé Bates, a spokeswoman for Yes 4 Minneapolis. "We're continuing this energy around this new and beautiful beginning that the city of Minneapolis can really start to claim."
The ballots also feature questions on rent control and the division of power in City Hall, along with a near-record number of candidates vying to fill elected positions; 102 people have filed to run for public office.
At stake are the mayor's office, all 13 City Council seats, and races on the Board of Estimate and Taxation and the Park and Recreation Board.
The city uses a ranked-choice voting system, which allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. Voters' second and third choices will play a significant role in determining the winner.
City officials expect a high turnout at the polls this election year, with more than 250,000 Minneapolis residents registered to vote. About 153,000 early voting ballots have been printed and officials have ordered an additional 183,000 ballots for Election Day, Nov. 2. On Friday, about 3,736 people cast their votes by mail, the city said.
The line at the voting center started to thin shortly after 9 a.m. Friday. Those who voted in person or dropped off their ballots were required to wear masks to protect against the spread of COVID-19, while others were allowed to vote from their vehicles.
"It's a really, really cool thing," said Jill Davis, 60, who called the election historic because for the first time, a Black candidate, Payne, is running for her First Ward council seat. She said she voted for him and hopes a Black leader will bring fresh ideas to her predominantly white neighborhood.
For more information about how to vote early, go to vote.minneapolismn.gov.
Staff writer Susan Du contributed to this report.
Faiza Mahamud • 612-673-4203