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Out-of-state contributions pouring into approval voting campaign in Fargo

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.1 / 3
Tony Gehrig2 / 3
Jed Limke3 / 3

FARGO — More than $28,000 has been raised in an effort to convince Fargoans to approve a measure in the upcoming general election to change the city's elections from traditional plurality voting to approval voting.

Plus, another $25,000 is in the pipeline, a backer of Fargo's Measure 1 said Monday, Oct. 8.

Reform Fargo, a group pushing for Measure 1, had taken in $28,335 as of Sept. 27, city records show.

The bulk of the donations have come from out of state, including $25,000 from The Center for Election Science, which lists a San Francisco address.

Other donations from outside North Dakota include: Aaron Hamlin, Cincinnati, Ohio, executive director of The Center for Election Science, ($875); Frank Atwood, Littleton, Colo. ($1,250); and Stephen Shanahan, King of Prussia, Pa. ($250).

Jed Limke, chairman of Reform Fargo, said the money will go to educating people about Measure 1 and promoting its passage.

Limke said The Center for Election Science approved a $50,000 grant. The second $25,000 disbursement is expected in the next 10 days.

"That is all for advertising and incidental costs that we have," Limke said.

Fargo City Auditor Steve Sprague said he's never seen this type of money in a campaign for a city ballot measure. Finance reports are filed for donations of more than $100 for measures, and $200 for candidates' campaigns.

"I have never had anybody supporting or opposing a measure that has had to file contributions reports in the past," Sprague said.

If approved, Measure 1 would amend the city charter to allow approval voting. In that system, voters can vote for as many candidates for each open seat as they want. The candidate or candidates with the most votes then wins.

With election season in full swing, Limke called the costs of advertising "staggering," noting that the group was quoted $300 for a 30-second ad during a morning radio talk show in the Red River Valley. A billboard for a week is $600. "The market for all of those things right now is really expensive," he said.

"We have an uphill battle to fight. It's the education factor. People don't know what (approval voting) is," Limke said. "We're just Fargo citizens just trying to get this thing done."

Hamlin of The Center for Election Science is excited that Fargoans were willing to get the approval voting measure to the city's voters.

"We're honored that they (Reform Fargo) reached out to us as a resource," Hamlin said. "We think it's a great solution."

However, City Commissioner Tony Gehrig is not a fan.

Gehrig said approval voting is not used by any other city or state, and that the measure is being backed by socialists from outside of North Dakota who "want to manipulate our system."

"People who have nothing to do with our community" are pushing this hard, Gehrig said. "This, to me, is one more reason approval voting should not go through."

Gehrig said the money spent for the approval voting campaign would be better spent on getting people out to vote, and expanding early voting and absentee voting.

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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