Group may sue to force 2003 city elections

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June 16, 2003 // UPDATED 10:51 am - April 30, 2007
By: Bob Gilbert
Bob Gilbert

Some Minneapolis residents are considering suing the city to hold a City Council election this fall. The next scheduled election is 2005.

Mark Kaplan, a councilmember in the late 1970s, feels the city neglected its constitutional obligations when the 13-member council ran in 2001 but did not use the redrawn ward boundaries based on the 2000 census. Currently, councilmembers will serve until 2005 in wards based on the 1990 census.

Because ward populations have diverged greatly since then - the south-side 6th Ward gained 14.8 percent more people while the southwest 13th Ward lost 4.4 percent - Kaplan says the current wards violate the \"one man, one vote\" principle.

In the city\'s \'71, \'81 and \'91 elections, redistricting was done immediately after the census, Kaplan said.

The threatened suit is the second the city faces. Downtown Councilmembers Natalie Johnson Lee (5th Ward) and Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward) are backing a suit to overturn the 2005 map; they are not seeking early elections.

A suit to force early elections emerged after the recently adjourned legislative session, where a bill sponsored by Minneapolis Rep. Phyllis Kahn failed to pass the DFL-controlled Senate. Kahn\'s bill would have apportioned wards based on the 2000 census, held elections this November, and made all current councilmembers at-large.

A majority of City Councilmembers opposed her bill, Kahn said. Now she wants the issue settled in federal court.

Noting that 8th Ward now has no councilmember, while two councilmembers live in the future 6th, Kahn thinks some areas effectively have no representation as their representatives eye the distant future.

However, suing the city costs money. The Federal Voting Rights Law stipulates that if the plaintiffs - for example, Kahn and Kaplan - win, their attorney and court costs are paid for. If they lose they will have to foot the bill. Susanne Griffin, the city\'s elections director, estimates a suit could cost the city $100,000.

Kaplan is undaunted; though he has no financial backer, he said, \"If you believe in the constitution and if you believe in one person, one vote and are willing to stand up at the plate for that principle, then you have to be willing to risk the dollars involved. Somebody has got to risk it or this principle falls apart.\"

Downtown Councilmember Lisa Goodman disagrees with Kahn and Kaplan and believes a new election would be time-consuming and expensive. Griffin estimates a 2003 election could cost $400,000.

Goodman notes that even if the courts call a 2003 election, challengers would be at an extreme disadvantage because they\'d only have four months to mount a credible campaign.

\"When I ran for office my constituents voted for who they wanted for four years,\" Goodman said. \"Now they want to change the game midstream. It seems to me that it would be undoing an election.\"

Kaplan did not set a deadline for filing the threatened suit.