A local grassroots organization, Reform Fargo, has received official approval after submitting signatures for an approval voting ballot initiative. Fargo voters will see approval voting on their ballot this November as Measure 1. The initiative changes the voting method for Fargo’s city-wide elections to approval voting, which lets voters choose (not rank) all the candidates they wish on their ballot. Most votes still wins. Cass County Auditor Mike Montplaisir and North Dakota Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum have both confirmed that approval voting requires no special software. It also adapts to current ballot design.
Reform Fargo’s founder, Jed Limke, reached out to The Center for Election Science (CES) for advice following Fargo creating an elections task force to improve its voting method. CES is a nonprofit that studies and advances better voting methods. Feedback from CES and input from Fargo residents at ten public meetings led to the task force recommending approval voting. Despite a clear recommendation from the task force and requests from citizens during public meetings, the commission spent the next ten months refusing to place approval voting on the ballot. Following the commission’s refusal, Jed Limke set up Reform Fargo to run approval voting as a ballot initiative and began working more closely with CES.
With vote splitting between candidates in Fargo elections, it’s become obvious how bad current elections are. Former Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness said, “Our current voting method is the least constructive method of voting and the most common.” In 2015, Fargo had a six-way election for a single commissioner seat. Vote splitting was so bad that the winner received just under 22% of the vote.
“Our current choose-one-candidate voting method discourages good people from running. But when they do run, the voting method is so incompetent that it gives results that—in some scenarios—may as well just be random. That’s because of vote splitting, inexpressive ballots, and incentivizing voters to prioritize ‘viability” over their own interests. We need our elections to be competitive. But competitive elections can’t happen when our current voting method self-destructs with the mildest of competition,” said CES Executive Director, Aaron Hamlin.
In addition to being simple (choose all the candidates you wish), approval voting has strengths that give it support across the political spectrum. This explains why the ballot initiative sponsoring committee had supporters from within both major parties and local third parties, including Libertarian. According to CES, approval voting favors consensus candidates while it also gives a more accurate reflection of support for third-parties and independents.
Hamlin said, “Approval voting holds a nice balance of favoring candidates that strike the tune of the people while also making sure new voices are heard. That balance is good because we need thought from all sides to move forward. Like a market, democracy necessitates free entry of ideas so everyone has a chance to succeed or fail. Approval voting can help us get there.”
The citizens of Fargo will vote on approval voting November 6.