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To help voters make informed choices in advance of Minneapolis’ election season, Sahan Journal worked with Pollen Midwest and Pillsbury United Communities to ask Minneapolitans what they wanted to know about the candidates on their 2021 ballots. 

The result? A voter guide—made by the community, for the community—that can help you become fully informed on this year’s candidates for Minneapolis mayor and City Council.

In the voter guide, you’ll find information on polling locations, your rights (yes, you can take time off work to vote!), and where candidates stand on issues like policing and public safety, rent control and housing, and jobs and jumpstarting the post-pandemic economy.

Before we began working on the voter guide, we surveyed the city’s political scene in 2021. Iissues like policing and racial equity appeared widely on social media. It was clear that Minneapolis residents were keen on understanding what role they could potentially play in their city’s future. But what did prospective voters in Minneapolis think about these issues, and what did they want to know about the candidates promising to address them? 

In turn, we designed a process that would start with questions from the community. From conducting surveys and listening sessions to commissioning local artists, we tried to weave community into every stage of our voter guide collaboration. 


This was a partnership between Pollen Midwest, Pillsbury United Communities and Sahan Journal. Our team at Sahan Journal led the community engagement efforts, which included listening sessions and a survey. The insights gleaned from each would directly feed into what information would go into the voter guide, as well as how it would be presented. 

Here’s how we did it:

First, we sent out a survey to gauge what Minneapolis residents were thinking prior to the election. Were they planning to vote? Had they already begun doing research on mayoral and City Council candidates? What topics or issues were important to them during this election season? 

We received over 400 responses to this survey. But because it appeared only in the English language, and circulated digitally on our social media and in newsletters, we wanted to ensure that we heard directly from Minnesota’s immigrants and communities of color.

For that reason, we held nine listening sessions with community organizations that work directly with Minneapolis’ Latino, Somali, and Hmong and Karen communities. These were 90-minute individual listening sessions that took place on Zoom, where we interviewed a total of nine community organizations in three areas:

  • Accessibility: How can we make the voter guide easy to find and use? How can we reach community members more directly?
  • Important topics and issues: What topics or issues are at the forefront of people’s minds? Why? 
  • Questions about and for mayoral and City Council candidates: What do you need to know about a candidate before you decide whether to vote for them? 

Here’s what we found in common across all three communities:

Accessibility

  • There’s a language barrier. Many community members have difficulty reading, speaking, and understanding English. Because they are unable to find information in their language, older community members often rely on help from younger relatives to find out basic election information, like whom to vote for and how. 
  • Keeping translation as simple as possible. It is important to hire translators that can write and explain complex political concepts using simple language. 
  • Hiring interpreters. Immigrant voters would like to know if polling stations have interpreters available. This information could come in the form of a map or a simple list.
  • Transportation: Older community members rely on their younger relatives to take them to and from polling stations. If they do not have someone to take them, many community members decide not to go vote. Providing information on what transportation options are available would encourage more voting  from people who face transportation barriers.  
  • Cultural factors that impact belief in electoral process, democracy, and the value of voting: Many community members in the Latino, Somali, and Hmong communities describe a culture that may not prioritize voting, due to mistrust of government, not believing their votes matter etc. This way of thinking typically affects older community members. It’s imperative to answering questions like “Why does my vote matter?” or “Why is voting important?” to address these culture-specific beliefs. 
  • Taking time off work: Many community members do not know that they are legally allowed to take time off work in order to vote. Some have employers that threaten to not pay them for their work; because many cannot afford to jeopardize their employment, they forgo voting. 
  • To reach community members directly, we should use a combination of in-person and online methods.
  • In person
    • Setting up tables, and leaving flyers or QR codes, at community hotspots i.e. churches and mosques, restaurants, markets, etc.
    • Working alongside trusted community leaders and organizers to tackle misconceptions and frequently asked questions
  • Online
    • Working with culturally-specific community media (like 3HmongTV and Somali TV Minnesota) to create programming that tackles misconceptions and answers frequently asked questions about voting
    • Not only publishing a written version of the voter guide, but also incorporating shareable audio and visual components to make the material more digestible and accessible
    • Tailoring distribution on social media to different age segments 

Important topics & issues

  • Community members consistently told us they care about “affordable housing and healthcare,” “immigration,” “public safety and the role of police,” and “jobs, economy, and taxes.”  
  • Ideas around police and public safety reform were not uniform. Community members are divided between “defunding” the police and increasing officer accountability, versus increasing police presence and increasing funding to law enforcement. Community members who said they wanted a higher police presence often talked about the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, and the unrest that has struck some immigrant business owners. 

Questions to & about specific candidates 

  • Questions about a candidate’s stance on public safety and police reform came up most frequently. This was followed by how candidates would ensure Minneapolis is more welcoming to immigrants and refugees; specific plans to provide affordable housing and healthcare; and what candidates would do to provide resources to immigrant business owners and nurture the entrepreneurial spirit of immigrant communities.
  • The one change that community members would like to see from elected officials in the next year is: more facetime. They want to see and hear more directly from elected officials, to ensure that elected representatives prioritize community concerns.
  • Community members told us they must know the following about candidates before they decide whether to vote for them:
    • Their party and previous work experience
    • History and track record of working with their specific community
    • Their core values and what they will focus on changing or improving 
    • Stance on issues important to the community (e.g., affordable housing, immigration, police reform, etc.)
    • Why the Latino, Somali, or Hmong vote matters to them

Sahan Journal published a 17-page internal report on our findings, which summarized what election-centric information the Hmong, Somali and Latino communities in Minneapolis needed. Next, the team at Pollen created a thoughtful candidates’ questionnaire that was sent to all mayoral candidates, as well as all City Council candidates from ward 1 through 13. As of right now, we have only received 34 responses (though we are updating the guide as we receive more). The beautiful design, eye-catching colors, and #MplsIsUs slogan came from the Pollen team.

The voter guide also included a series of FAQs our Sahan Journal reporters have created over the past month. Here, we explain what voters need to know about three ballot amendments that will appear this fall: one on the size, role, and oversight of the Minneapolis Police Department; one on whether Minneapolis should switch to a “strong mayor” system; and one on rent control and housing affordability

Pillsbury United Communities has put in a ton of work on distributing this voter guide—from creating a print version of the voter guide (in the form of a booklet, posters, and flyers) and translating it into Hmong, Spanish, and Somali. These will be available at local businesses and popular, community hotspots. The goal here is to reach community members who have limited internet access and/or may not speak English as their first language.

Check out the online version of the voter guide here. 

We’ve made it easy to share, so you can dig in and pass it along to your family, friends, and neighbors. 

We’d like to thank each and every one of you from Minnesota’s diverse communities who met with us, thoughtfully filled out our surveys, and helped shape this voter guide. While we may have hit publish on the voter guide, this is not at all the end. Early voting began on September 17, 2021, and we hope you continue to check in with us as we cover local politics until Election Day (November 2, 2021)—and beyond! 

Tell us more about the issues you care about and what we should be covering. Send us an email at aabdullahi@sahanjournal.com

Special shoutout to the creative talent involved in bringing this voter guide to life. Art, Photography and Illustration by Jaida Grey Eagle, Ben Hovland, Allegra Lockstadt, Emma Eubanks, Ryan Stopera, Ricardo Levins Morales, Leslie Barlow, Luis Fitch, and Terresa Moses.

Aala Abdullahi is the innovation and community engagement editor at Sahan Journal.