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Approval voting measure to appear on Fargo ballots in November

FARGO — A new method of electing city leaders that supporters say will give voters more choices is officially going on the November ballot after the City Commission reviewed the ballot language Monday, Aug. 27.

If passed, City of Fargo Measure No. 1 would amend the city charter to allow voters to vote for as many candidates for each open seat as they want, a method called "approval voting."

The current method, called "plurality voting," allows voters to only vote for one candidate for each open seat.

Candidates with the most votes win under both methods.

"We're really excited. We worked really hard. We built from the ground up, and we're going to keep working at it to get it passed," said Jed Limke, the face of the petition group Reform Fargo.

Limke was a member of a city task force studying election reform that recommended approval voting after a busy City Commission race in 2016 in which there were so many candidates running for two seats that neither of the winners had a majority of the votes. The winners, Commissioners Tony Grindberg and John Strand, said it made them wonder how much of a mandate they had.

Measure 1, which would affect City Commission, mayoral and municipal judge races, would make that scenario less likely.

Reform Fargo began gathering signatures after the City Commission declined to take action on the task force's recommendation.

City commissioners, some of whom earlier worried that approval voting had not been tested in any other government body, voted unanimously Monday to receive and file the ballot language. City Auditor Steve Sprague will then send it to the county to put it on the ballot.

The last time a citizen-initiated measure appeared on the ballot in Fargo was in 2004, according to Sprague. That was the year three separate smoking-ban measures made it on the ballot.

The last time an amendment to the city charter was on the ballot was in 2015, when the city voted to let city commissioners keep their seat and run for mayor instead of being forced to resign.

Reform Fargo needed 1,349 signatures to get Measure 1 on the ballot but gathered 1,958 signatures, of which 35 were eliminated because they were duplicates or were from out-of-town residents. Emulating a state procedure, the city sent postcards to all the remaining people who signed the petition asking them to affirm that they have signed.

The state sends postcards to a random sample and is satisfied if it gets 42 to 47 percent of them back, Sprague said. The city, which aimed for 1,349 returns, got 48 percent of those back, he said.

Tu-Uyen Tran
Tran is an enterprise reporter with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began his newspaper career in 1999 as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, now owned by Forum Communications. He began working for the Forum in September 2014. Tran grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington.
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