FARGO — Election reform is back on the City Commission's agenda Monday night, Oct. 23, with draft resolutions that could set the stage for a public vote to amend the city charter.
Before city leaders will be a resolution to expand the commission from five members to seven and to hold a primary election for city offices in addition to the regular city election starting in 2020, as requested by Commissioner Tony Grindberg.
An election-reform task force formed by city leaders had earlier recommended expanding commission membership and changing the election method to something called "approval voting"; it didn't recommend a primary.
As a reason to avoid the approval voting recommendation, Grindberg has cited disagreement among task force members over whether to implement the rarely used system.
Commissioner John Strand, who has said he wants the task force recommendations to go to a vote of the public, told The Forum Friday, Oct. 20, he still would like to see that. But he said he wants the commission to take more time to gather public input.
Grindberg, the top vote getter in the June 2016 city election, received 16 percent of the vote. Strand came in second with 15 percent. The field of candidates was crowded so, despite getting a minority of the vote, they won because they had more votes than the others, which caused both to wonder what sort of mandate they really had. This eventually led to the formation of the election task force.
City leaders are currently selected in a plurality vote where voters can pick as many candidates as there are open seats, which often produces minority winners when there's a large field. It can also split votes when many similar candidates run at the same time.
The task force recommended changing to approval voting, which allows voters to pick as many candidates as they like, reducing the risk of minority winners and split votes. Few if any governmental bodies use this method to select its leaders, however.
The primary election Grindberg favors would be similar to the county election. With its two-step process, it also resembles the runoff elections the city used to run when no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote. The city eliminated runoffs in 2000.
Grindberg's proposed resolution, drafted by City Attorney Erik Johnson, would add language to the charter that requires the city to hold a primary election for city offices followed by a general election starting in 2020 but does not specify the days. City leaders could decide that by ordinance later.
The other resolution would have residents vote on two more city commissioners in 2020, with one's term ending in 2022 and the other in 2024 to ensure their terms are staggered.