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Pros, cons of approval voting aired at forum; Fargo voters to consider new election method in November

Reform Fargo uses this illustration to demonstrate the concept of approval voting, which will be on the Nov. 6 ballot in Fargo. Special to The Forum.

FARGO — About 30 people attended a forum Friday, Sept. 7, on the pros and cons of a new election system that Fargo voters will consider this fall.

If voters approve Measure No. 1 in November, the city would adopt what’s known as approval voting, a system that lets voters pick as many candidates as they like. The current method, plurality voting, lets voters select one candidate per race.

Advocates of approval voting say it would help avoid situations such as the 2016 City Commission race, when there were so many candidates vying for two seats, neither of the winners received a majority of the votes.

“In 2016, seven out of 10 people did not vote for the first-place finisher,” said Jed Limke, founder of Reform Fargo, a group that gathered signatures to get Measure No. 1 on the ballot. “The current system works well when there are only two options. When you have more than two, it’s a problem.”

Mark L. Johnson, a political science instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead, argued that approval voting is no better than the current system. And he said approval voting is not being used by any government system.

Johnson said the method doesn’t work well in fractionalized communities like Fargo. In such communities, a small group of voters can manipulate election results, he said.

Situations such as the 2016 City Commission race are the result of the city election’s at-large nature and the need to add members to the commission, Johnson said.

“Fargo has, by far, the smallest city commission per capita in the Midwest,” he said. “But adding more commissioners is not on the ballot.”

Limke said the existing voting system does not represent the wants of voters. He said approval voting mitigates the spoiler effect by allowing voters to select candidates without hurting other favorable candidates. The method gives a more accurate overall picture of support for each candidate, he said.

Limke emphasized that under an approval voting system, if voters only want to vote for a single candidate in a race, they can. He also said approval voting is compatible with Fargo’s voting equipment.

The League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley hosted Friday’s forum at the Sons of Norway, 722 2nd Ave. N.