In November of 2018, we, the citizens of Fargo, overwhelmingly chose to change our future elections to approval voting.

Often, voters are frustrated by the choices presented to them during elections. Because many recognize that voting sincerely often risks receiving a worse result in the end, they are compelled to vote for "the lesser of two evils" even though their preferences lie among other candidates. This problem leads to voter disgust, discouragement, and disenfranchisement.

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a way to mitigate this problem?

The solution we recommend is called approval voting.

You've used it countless times without realizing it.

Whenever you've tried to coordinate a time to meet or what to do with a group, one thing you probably haven't done is say "Everyone gets to propose one and only one option each." What you've probably done, instead, is request that "Everyone throw in a few options." You then counted up the support for each option and determined which one had the most, choosing it above the others. This process, in a nutshell, is approval voting.

It's simple.

In practice, approval voting will be very familiar to you. You'll still fill in ovals on your ballot; the only change is how many ovals you'll be allowed to fill out. Instead of being told to 'Vote for ONE name', you'll simply be told to 'Vote for ALL the names you approve of.'

Candidates receiving the most votes will still win, exactly as they always have.

It's descriptive.

Only like one candidate?
Approve just that one.
Like several candidates?
Approve all of them.
Only know who you don't want?
Approve everyone else.
Worried your favorite doesn’t have a chance?
Approve your favorite plus a compromise or two.

Not only are all of these possibilities descriptive, they’re also completely valid ways to cast your ballot with approval voting — telling the government how you truly want an election to turn out is allowed.

It's flexible.

Voters can still vote exactly the way they used to vote in mayoral, commission, and municipal judge races without any change: no harm, no foul. Those who choose to take advantage of approval voting’s flexibility can do so without forcing any other voters to do it, too.

It helps lower barriers to entry.

Barriers to entry don’t necessarily affect the winner of an election, but they do threaten the ability for alternative voices to be heard. Our current system can create these barriers by giving new candidates artificially low support — the consequence when voters fear voting their true preferences. This means that these other candidates don’t just lose — they lose big — making it seem like their ideas may never be popular enough to even discuss, let alone elect.

Approval voting allows you to vote your favorite and make your support for different candidates and ideas known without risking your own interests.

It mitigates the spoiler effect.

If you want to support one candidate, you can safely do it now without worrying about the spoiler effect2 hurting other candidates you like — you can vote for all of them — protecting your interests while also giving each of them a more accurate measure of support.

It tends to elect beats-all winners.

A beats-all winner is a candidate who would beat each of the other candidates in a series of head-to-head races. Candidates with broad support across the ideological spectrum have a chance to win under approval voting instead of being squeezed out3 by more extreme candidates on either side, or simply acting as spoilers as they do now in our current system.

It's absolutely compatible with our existing election equipment.

Our state's voting equipment has been confirmed to be compatible with approval voting by both Cass County Auditor Mike Montplaisir and North Dakota Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum.

  1. Our ballot initiative passed overwhelmingly at nearly 2:1, that is 30,092 to 17,282 votes.

  2. The spoiler effect is the effect of vote splitting between candidates with similar ideologies.

  3. The center-squeeze effect is exhibited when a centrist candidate on the political spectrum is squeezed from both sides by other candidates who absorb the centrist's support, leaving the centrist, although broadly appealing, unable to effectively compete.