The Potluck

Minneapolis voters turn out in record numbers for historic election

By: and - November 2, 2021 4:29 pm

Voters cast ballots at Brackett Recreation Center in Minneapolis on Nov. 2, 2021. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

The first city election since the police murder of George Floyd drew Minneapolis residents to the polls in droves, with a historic number of early voters casting ballots for a municipal election. 

Minneapolis voters will choose a mayor and City Council but also answer two ballot questions that could reshape the powers of government and public safety. Another would pave the way for rent control. 

“Minneapolis has a very engaged and active voter base,” said City Clerk Casey Carl. “We enjoy turnout in all of our elections that is higher than most cities around the world. We had a mayor say before that Minneapolis is the voting-est city in the voting-est state in the United States.” 

Policing and public safety have dominated the election, with voters getting to decide the fate of the police department after Floyd’s murder inspired local and national protests, including calls to defund police. 

The election comes after a tumultuous 18 months of calls for police reform and rising gun violence. 

Before the pandemic and Floyd unrest, the City Council spent its four-year term enacting progressive policies such as a $15 minimum wage and the Minneapolis 2040 plan that abolished zoning for single-family homes. 

Geri Neal, 69, and Catra Allen, 34, voted together in the Longfellow neighborhood, choosing to replace the police department, reelect Frey and give him more power. 

“We need some change here with our communities, with each other and with our police department,” Neal said. 

Neal, who is Black, said her hope for a new department of public safety would be that it has more officers from the communities they serve and who work to get to know people. 

“It’s like you seeing your postman every day. You know this man and you trust him,” Neal said. “I think they could get the community to open up a little more, to tell them if something happens.” 

Fewer than 10% of officers on the force live in Minneapolis, and oftentimes witnesses fear working with the police, making it difficult to bring charges in shootings and other crimes. The department is also whiter than the city as a whole, although Neal and Allen said the color of the officer isn’t as important to them as having ones they know and trust. 

“To me it doesn’t matter if you’re a Black officer or a white officer. If I don’t know you, I don’t know you,” Neal said. 

“We need more familiar ones,” said Allen, who is also Black. “It’s easier to rebuild trust with someone from your own community than the police we have now.” 

Neal and Allen also both voted to reelect Frey and for Question 1, which would give more authority to the mayor over the daily operations of the city. 

“I trust him 100%,” Allen said. “I think he’s fair. I think he sees the opposing side and tries to understand it even if he can’t always fix it.” 

Bobby Arntsen, 65, voted for Frey as well as expanding his power as mayor. 

“I was glad that he stood up to the City Council because I didn’t think they were very responsible in how they did the ‘defund the police’ thing. I think it added to the chaos,” said Arntsen, who is white. 

Arntsen said he voted for the strong mayor question and against the public safety and rent control questions. 

“I think instead of trying to remake the wheel, make the wheel better,” Arntsen said. “I think (Chief Medaria) Arradondo has been working on that. I’m all for adding more public health initiatives but I don’t think you need to take away from one to give to another.” 

Carl, the city clerk, said the city had the largest early vote turnout in 45 years, though absentee voting rules were significantly relaxed with a 2013 bill passed by the Legislature. By early afternoon, the city was already at about a 27% turnout, with about six hours of voting to go. 

Carl said results could start coming in as soon as 8:30 p.m. and continue until about 10 p.m., when he expects all 134 precincts will have reported. Shortly thereafter, unofficial final results should be in on the three ballot questions. 

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.

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