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Reform Fargo gathering signatures to get 'approval voting' on fall ballot

FARGO - A group has recently begun gathering signatures to get a measure on this fall's general election ballot to allow "approval voting" for future elections.

"I think that it's going lead to a more responsive government and better outcomes for voters," Jed Limke, a member of Reform Fargo, said Tuesday, May 1.

Limke said approval voting - which lets voters choose as many candidates as they like in a crowded field - will benefit candidates with consensus support, rather than continuing to elect candidates who win with small percentages of the vote due to vote splitting.

"We're looking for people (to be elected) that a majority of the population can agree on, not someone who gets in as a side effect of the mass" of people running, Limke said.

Reform Fargo needs to gather at least 2,170 petition signatures by the first week of August, so that the measure to change the city's Home Rule Charter to allow approval voting can be put on the November ballot, City Auditor Steve Sprague said.

Approval voting was one of the suggestions forwarded to the city commission in 2017 by an elections task force, but it failed to gain enough support among commissioners to be put on the June city election ballot.

Zac Echola, another Reform Fargo member, said the measure may make some city commissioners uncomfortable. But as a voter, "making government uncomfortable is what my job should be," he said.

"I think government should work for us, the citizens. Approval voting, itself, will help voters express their desires for what they want out of government," which the current system doesn't allow, Echola said.

In the June 2016 city commission election, there were 11 candidates running for two available seats. Those seats were won by Tony Grindberg and John Strand, with 16 percent and 15 percent, respectively, of the nearly 32,000 votes counted.

Nine candidates are running for two city commission seats in this year's June 12 city election, including Linda Boyd, Tim Flakoll, Liz Maddock-Johnson, Kelan Oster, Arlette Preston, Lenny Tweeden, Michael Williams and incumbent commissioners Tony Gehrig and Dave Piepkorn.

The large field for the two seats shows a healthy interest in democracy, Limke said, but invites a similar outcome to 2016's split vote.

Limke said that without some system to thin a large field of candidates, voters have a hard time determining which of the candidates with their views will win, and may feel that votes that go to also-rans are wasted.

"It's more about that the majority didn't vote for that candidate," Echola said. "If someone wins with 12 percent of the vote, ... the majority's viewpoint isn't actually reflected in government, and that needs to change."

Other members of the Reform Fargo sponsorship committee are Barry Nelson, Lois Ivers Altenburg, Karen Stoker and Marty Riske.

Limke said approval voting should provide a more "responsive government," and the system is compatible with the current election infrastructure, requiring no changes to existing equipment.

If Fargo adopts approval voting for its commission, mayor and municipal judge candidates, it will be the first city to do so, Limke said.

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including K-12 education, Fargo city government, criminal justice, and military affairs. He is currently one of The Forum's business reporters.

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