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Minneapolis voters will make two decisions this fall that could scramble the city election cycle.

The first question on the Nov. 3 ballot will ask residents to decide whether council members should effectively run for two two-year terms in 2021 and 2023, instead of one four-year term.

The second question asks voters to clarify when the city can hold special elections after an official’s resignation.

Both have to be decided by voters because they change the city’s charter. The questions could serve as an unofficial referendum on the current City Council, which has come under increasing scrutiny over its handling of police reform issues and crime following George Floyd’s death.

Early voting will continue until Nov. 3.

How will the first question appear on the ballot?

It will say: Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to allow ward and park district boundaries to be reestablished in a year ending in 1 and to allow the use of those new boundaries for elections in that same year; to allow ward and park district boundaries to be modified after the legislature has been redistricted to establish City precinct boundaries; to provide that an election for a Council Member office required by Minnesota law in a year ending in 2 or 3 after a redistricting shall be for a single 2-year term; and to clarify that a regular election means a regular general election?

What is this question asking?

The City Charter requires council members to run for four-year terms, and they come up for election again in 2021. They would typically run for a four-year term again in 2025. If this question passes, they will run for two-year terms in 2021 and 2023, and a four-year term in 2025.

Why is the city considering changing the election cycle for council members?

Ward boundaries for City Council members are redrawn every decade after new census data is released. That process can’t always be completed before the next election cycle.

In 2010, the state Legislature passed a law designed to ensure that City Council members in Minneapolis and St. Paul represent wards that reflect their cities’ changing demographics.

That law requires the cities to hold council elections in years ending in 2 or 3 after a census is taken. Sometimes, that aligns with the normal four-year election cycle. Occasionally it conflicts.

What happens if the majority of voters say “no” to this question?

There’s no way to be certain, because the courts have never been asked to weigh in on this issue.

Some people think the city could still require council members to run twice in four years, arguing that state law supersedes local rules. A legal analysis produced by the City Attorney’s Office noted that they could also try to argue the state law doesn’t apply here, based on technicalities.

How will the second question appear on the ballot?

Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to comply with Minnesota election law related to uniform dates for special municipal elections and to provide that a special election be held on a legal Election Day under Minnesota law that is more than 90 days from a vacancy in the office of Mayor or Council Member?

How do special elections work now?

The city’s charter says a special election must be within 90 days of an elected official’s resignation. State law says most special elections can be only on one of five specific dates. The two don’t always align.

This conflict became apparent when Abdi Warsame resigned to take the helm of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority earlier this year.

If the majority of voters say “yes” to this question, special elections will happen on a state-sanctioned Election Day that is more than 90 days after a city official resigns.