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The ballots are simple enough: Every Minneapolis voter will see only their local City Council race when they turn out to the polls.

But voters' decisions in those 13 separate races will have a far-reaching impact, determining the dynamics of the next chapter in the city's politics and setting the course for how Minneapolis will proceed with big issues like policing and homelessness. And while he's not on the ballot, Mayor Jacob Frey's standing — whether he faces a council that is friendly, combative or something in between — is up in the air as well.

Early voting began Friday. Election Day is Nov. 7. Here's how to vote in the ranked-choice system, check your registration and see a sample ballot.

The 38 council candidates have crafted their messages, printers have printed ballots, and groups have made endorsements. While the politicking and fundraising continues, now the voters have their say.

Here are some things to consider.

Council coalitions

Even though each council member is an individual, coalitions form.

The current council is divided between a more progressive wing, a moderate wing — by comparison, as there are no Republicans on the council — and some members who swing between the two and often cast deciding votes.

The relatively moderate segment includes Council Members Michael Rainville, LaTrisha Vetaw, Lisa Goodman, Emily Koski and Vice President Linea Palmisano.

Council President Andrea Jenkins and Council Members Jamal Osman and Andrew Johnson often provide swing votes — but frequently Jenkins and at least one other will side with the moderate wing, allowing them to hold sway.

The more progressive wing includes Council Members Elliott Payne, Robin Wonsley, Jeremiah Ellison, Jason Chavez and Aisha Chughtai.

That's an oversimplification, but it's useful in understanding how the council works.

It's a delicate balance — and one that can easily be tipped in this election.

For example: Johnson and Goodman aren't running for re-election, and Jenkins lost the DFL Party endorsement to challenger Soren Stevenson. Several incumbents face multiple challengers. That makes for an unpredictable situation under ranked-choice voting, where candidates can urge their voters to pick backups, potentially upsetting an incumbent who, at first glance, has the strongest support.

Policing, rent control, etc.

It's nearly a given in DFL-dominated Minneapolis that the next City Council will be dominated by people who favor robust taxes for government services, a liberal social agenda, and support for historically marginalized groups.

But there's spirited disagreement on how to approach several important issues facing the city. The balance of power on the council could steer one course over another on:

  • Public safety: Major changes will be coming to the Minneapolis Police Department regardless of who's in charge, thanks to a court-approved settlement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and an anticipated federal court-enforced consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. But how to get to those prescribed changes, how much to emphasize alternatives to policing and even whether to fund police requests, will be affected by who's in charge. So could the debate on the future of the Third Precinct police station.
  • Homelessness: It's unclear that any approach to homelessness will solve the problem of people living outside — as public officials have been promising to do for decades. But the posture of how to approach homeless encampments is split: More progressive candidates have been critical of the city's approach, accusing Frey's administration of being too aggressive. There's a lot of overlap in how the candidates want to tackle the problem long-term, such as increasing the supply of affordable housing. Much of the distinction lies in how much weight to give nearby residents' concerns about encampments, and when, or whether, to clear them.
  • Rent control: There's a clear split between the most liberal candidates, who favor a strict 3% cap on rent increases, and the moderates, who range from cautious to hostile when it comes to supporting any rent control.
  • Sidewalk shoveling: Another clear split. The more progressive candidates support spending taxpayer dollars to create an ambitious program to clear snow from miles of city sidewalks — perhaps all sidewalks citywide. Other candidates are less enthused and have seemed open to targeted pilot programs at most.

Balance of power

In 2021, Minneapolis voters approved a charter amendment that transformed the city government structure into a "strong mayor" system. But that doesn't mean Frey, whose term continues through 2024, will govern from a position of strength.

Today, Frey usually gets his way on major issues the council takes up, although the margins are often thin. When he doesn't, he has used his veto power — and has yet to be overridden by the current council.

But if the elections result in a council majority hostile to Frey, the two branches of government could end up at loggerheads, with the council frequently passing measures then vetoed by Frey, and the mayor facing a council that refuses to approve his spending priorities or confirm appointments of senior staff.

It might be a long shot for a nine-member, veto-proof, supermajority of full Frey foes to form from this election. But there are multiple scenarios where the next council is far more combative to the mayor than the current one.

Some candidates have made clear their opinions of the mayor, while others have remained relatively neutral.

For example, when asked by the Star Tribune whether "Frey is doing a good job," Stevenson, who's challenging Jenkins in one of the most closely watched races, responded, in part: "No. ... The Mayor's priority has been protecting the interests of corporations and the wealthy rather than improving the lives of the residents of Minneapolis."

Jenkins answered avoided a straight yes or no, writing, in part, that Frey "is doing the best he can under tremendous pressure."

'Many' vs. 'All'

For further-left progressives hoping to win a seven-seat majority, there's one easy way to see the math: combine the candidates endorsed by the Twin Cities chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America with a slate put forward by the group Minneapolis for the Many, which formed in August with the stated goal of electing a "progressive majority."

The resulting seven are: Wonsley (the only candidate running unopposed), Ellison, Ward 7 candidate Katie Cashman, Stevenson, Chavez, Chughtai and Ward 12 candidate Aurin Chowdhury. That doesn't include Payne, who is seeking re-election.

On the other side is All of Mpls, which calls for "collaborative leadership at City Hall," and offers up its path to seven: Rainville, Vetaw, Ward 7 candidate Scott Graham, Jenkins, Koski, Ward 12 candidate Luther Ranheim and Palmisano.

Correction: Previous version of the story had an incorrect last name for council candidate Soren Stevenson.