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Fargo Becomes First U.S. City to Try Approval Voting

Approval voting had been used for electing leadership for associations before entering the U.S. electoral system in 2020. (Adobe Stock)
Approval voting had been used for electing leadership for associations before entering the U.S. electoral system in 2020. (Adobe Stock)
June 10, 2020

FARGO, N.D. -- This week's municipal election in Fargo ushered in a new approach to the democratic process, as the city became the first in the nation to try "approval voting."

The system allows a voter to endorse as many people in a multi-candidate race as he or she likes. However, there aren't multiple winners; the candidate with the most votes still declares victory.

Aaron Hamlin, executive director of The Center for Election Science, which is helping spearhead the movement, said the current standard of deciding on one candidate has too many problems.

"And that really creates a lot of limitations for the voter, because it means they aren't able to fully express themselves," he said, "and we see all kinds of consequences, like vote-splitting between candidates and so on."

Skeptics of approval voting have wondered if voters still will be tempted to use ballot strategy by second guessing adding other choices so they don't harm their preferred candidate. They also have said a candidate still can win with less than 50% of the vote and not have a clear mandate to assume office. However, Hamlin said no voting method, including ranked choice, can ever guarantee a majority when there are more than two candidates.

Jed Limke, who chairs the group Reform Fargo, helped get the question of switching to approval voting on the 2018 ballot, where it passed. He said alternative methods, such as a runoff system, have other side effects, such as requiring multiple elections.

"That stretches the campaign season out, that drains the resources of the candidates," he said. "High costs for running as a candidate limit the ability for all citizens to run for office."

He said that's why approval voting is a better option; it doesn't require election authorities to incur added expenses for new software and other needs.

Elsewhere in the country, the option will be considered by St. Louis voters this fall, and there's a push to get it on the ballot in Colorado.

Disclosure: Center for Election Science contributes to our fund for reporting on Campaign Finance Reform/Money in Pol, Civic Engagement, Civil Rights. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - ND