The people will save their government, if the government itself will allow them.
Abraham Lincoln

Which races has the switch to approval voting in Fargo affected?

The switch to approval voting has affected races to fill positions for the City of Fargo itself, i.e. for the mayor, commissioners, and municipal judge.

This change does not affect Fargo School Board, Fargo Park District, or Cass County Commission races... at least not yet.

How long have we been talking about reforms in Fargo?

April 28th, 2015After a six-candidate race for a single seat, Commissioner Tony Gehrig is elected to the City Commission with 3,181 votes out of 14,591 ballots cast, receiving 21.8% of the voters' support.
June 14th, 2016After an eleven-candidate race for two seats, out of 16,857 ballots cast, Commissioners Tony Grindberg and John Strand are elected with 5,131 and 4,744 votes for 30.4% and 28.1% of the voters' support, respectively.
July 5th, 2016A proposal to study election methods is approved by the commission.
August 1st, 2016Governance and Elections Task Force is formed by commissioners Grindberg and Gehrig. This task force is made up of members of the public with the aforementioned commissioners serving in non-voting advisory roles.
September 29th, 2016First task force meeting. Members of the public attend.
October 13th, 2016Second task force meeting. Members of the public attend.
October 27th, 2016Third task force meeting. Members of the public attend.
November 10th, 2016Fourth task force meeting. Members of the public attend.
November 22nd, 2016Fifth task force meeting. Members of the public attend.
December 8th, 2016Sixth task force meeting. Members of the public attend.
December 16th, 2016Seventh task force meeting. Members of the public attend.
December 22nd, 2016Eighth task force meeting. Members of the public attend.
January 5th, 2017Ninth task force meeting. Members of the public attend.
January 19th, 2017Tenth task force meeting. Members of the public attend.
February 14th, 2017The task force presents its findings and recommendations, namely approval voting and adding two commissioners, to the city commission in a lunchtime public session, recommending they be placed on the ballot for a public vote. Members of the public attend.
February 27th, 2017Commission officially receives and files the findings of the task force.
March 27th, 2017Commission asks for public comment on findings of task force; all attending members of the public who addressed the reforms asked for change to our election system and the opportunity to vote on the changes. Commission asks for more input and places another hearing on the agenda for May 8th.
May 8th, 2017Members of the public appear to speak about the proposed reforms; commission does not address the proposals.
May 22nd, 2017Members of the public again appear to speak about the proposed reforms; commission does not address the proposals.
September 11th, 2017After public pressure, commission places discussion on the agenda again.
October 9th, 2017Commission discusses the reforms, but does not open the discussion to public hearing during their commission meeting. Schedules a formal vote for October 23rd, 2017.
October 23rd, 2017Commission delays action on election reform proposals again, asking for a "public engagement" meeting.
December 13th, 2017Informational session on the reforms held at Carl Ben Eielson Middle School, led by Task Force Chair Bruce Furness, Task Force Member Jed Limke, and City Commissioner Tony Gehrig. Over 50 members of the public attended. Crowd was overwhelmingly in favor of being given the opportunity to vote on the reforms.
December 18th, 2017The city commission addresses the reforms for the last time. The discussion is not scheduled during the public hearing portion of the meeting; therefore the public is barred from addressing the commission about the reforms. The commissioners discuss the proposals, but every proposal to place the reforms on the June 2018 ballot for a public vote fail. Ultimately, the city commission refuses to let the public vote on the proposals and declares the matter closed.
April 30th, 2018Reform Fargo officially files a ballot initiative to bring approval voting to Fargo's elections and starts gathering signatures, needing 1,411 valid signatures to place the measure on the November 6th ballot.
June 12th, 2018After a nine-candidate race for two seats, out of 12,184 ballots cast, Commissioners Tony Gehrig and Dave Piepkorn are reëlected with 3,998 and 3,683 votes for 32.8% and 30.2% of the voters' support, respectively.
July 30th, 2018Reform Fargo officially submits 2,000 signatures to the City of Fargo for verification of their ballot initiative.
August 27th, 2018City of Fargo auditor declares the petition valid and sufficient, allowing the petition to take the form of Fargo Measure 1 on the November ballot.
November 6th, 2018Fargo makes history as Fargo Measure 1 passes with overwhelming support—nearly 2:1 in favor!
June 9th, 2020Fargo held its first approval voting election—the first of its type in U.S. history. After a seven-candidate race for two seats, out of 18,805 ballots cast, Commissioners John Strand and Arlette Preston are elected with 10,393 and 9,893 votes for 55.3% and 52.6% of the voters' support, respectively.
June 15th, 2022Fargo held its second approval voting election. After a fifteen-candidate race for two seats, out of 16,033 ballots cast, Commissioners Denise Kolpack and Dave Piepkorn are elected with 6,439 and 5,845 votes for 40.16% and 36.46% of the voters' support, respectively. Mayor Tim Mahoney was reëlected from a field of seven with 9,755 votes for 60.84% of the voters' support.
January 11th, 2023Representative Ben Koppleman of District 16, a non-Fargo legislator, introduces a bill to ban approval voting and ranked choice voting statewide in North Dakota.
February 9th, 2023The bill, HB 1273, is heard before the ND House's Political Subdivisions committee. Despite significant testimony in opposition to the bill, the committee recommends a DO PASS to ban approval voting.
February 15th, 2023HB 1273 passes in the North Dakota House, 74-19.
March 17th, 2023After passage in the House, HB 1273 comes before the State and Local Government committee in the ND Senate. Thanks to rigorous testimony from both the public and Fargo City representatives, this committee makes a DO NOT PASS recommendation.
March 30th, 2023Unfortunately, HB 1273 passes in the North Dakota Senate, 33-13.
April 6th, 2023After public pressure and the simple application of logic, Governor Burgum vetoes HB 1273, citing home rule and Fargo citizens' rights as motivating factors.
April 10th, 2023The North Dakota House again passes HB 1273 with enough support to override the Governor's earlier veto.
April 19th, 2023Thanks to an absolute outporing of support for approval voting and intense public pressure and scrutiny, the North Dakota Senate upholds the Governor's veto and decisively defeats HB 1273, once and for all, 28-19.

Where are those interviews of the 2022 Fargo City Commission and Mayoral candidates?

They're right here!

... and the 2020 Fargo City Commission candidates?

They're right here!

Why not a runoff election?

Legally, in order to have a runoff election, it cannot be held for at least 95 days after the triggering election, due to the fact that the election needs to be advertised, ballots need to be prepared and sent to overseas citizens, et cetera, which will stretch the campaign season out several months. This campaign stretch will drain the resources of the candidates.

“Boo-hoo,” you say, “the poor candidates will have to spend more money.” While it’s true that cost of elections to candidates isn’t the first concern that comes to mind, consider what high costs limit: they limit the ability for all citizens to run for office.

If elections are expensive then only the wealthy (in money, free-time, or both) are able to run for office, let alone win. Keeping costs for candidates down is a necessity for a fair and open government.

Furthermore, runoffs don’t solve the vote splitting1 or center-squeeze2 issues. Runoff elections are still comprised of top vote-getters from the regular election, but this doesn’t mean that all voters would have been able to vote their consciences due to fear of splitting the vote.

Runoffs are simply a lose-lose situation for everyone involved.

Does approval voting violate One Person, One Vote?

Absolutely not. Those who argue this are applying a literal interpretation of what the precedent means without understanding the context of how the phrase came about and how it's legally used.

One Person, One Vote is concerned with equal representation across voting districts and not the voting method in use. That is, voters, no matter where they live, should be able to have the same voting power to elect representatives as other voters in different areas within the same overarching district. For example, in North Dakota, we have 47 state legislative districts and each district elects one State Senator and two State Representatives. To ensure these districts don't violate One Person, One Vote, each of these districts is required to have roughly the same population. If this was not the case, voters in a less populous district would individually have more sway over the composition of the legislature than voters in a more populous district, violating One Person, One Vote.

Furthermore, the word "vote" has several meanings and in this discussion they can sometimes become a bit muddled. Every voter in approval voting gets one "vote" (in the sense that they get one ballot—one chance to affect the outcome) whether they "vote" (by filling in ovals) for multiple candidates or not.

For example, imagine there are four candidates on an approval voting ballot—Apple, Lion, Tiger, and Bear. As members of the Plant Party, I, alongside nine others, all vote for Apple. You, alongside nine other Animal Party members, all vote for candidates Lion, Tiger, and Bear. In the end, the vote totals are:

Approval VotingAppleLionTigerBear
Plant Voter #1
Plant Voter #2
Plant Voter #3
Plant Voter #4
Plant Voter #5
Plant Voter #6
Plant Voter #7
Plant Voter #8
Plant Voter #9
Plant Voter #10
Animal Voter #1
Animal Voter #2
Animal Voter #3
Animal Voter #4
Animal Voter #5
Animal Voter #6
Animal Voter #7
Animal Voter #8
Animal Voter #9
Animal Voter #10

None of us had more weight than anyone else to move our ideologies forward and in the end we've effectively canceled one another out—something that can only be done with a fair voting method.

In contrast, under a traditional choose-one system, the members of the Animal Party had better be very coordinated or organized on who they're backing or they could very easily hand victory to the Plant Party even if the Animals outnumber the Plants more than 2:1!

Choose-one VotingApple Lion Tiger Bear
Plant Voter #1
Plant Voter #2
Plant Voter #3
Plant Voter #4
Plant Voter #5
Animal Voter #1
Animal Voter #2
Animal Voter #3
Animal Voter #4
Animal Voter #5
Animal Voter #6
Animal Voter #7
Animal Voter #8
Animal Voter #9
Animal Voter #10
Animal Voter #11
Animal Voter #12

Doesn't seem very fair does it? This is a major reason why we advocate for and worked to pass Approval Voting in Fargo. Approval voting gives voters the confidence to vote their true preferences in an election while insuring they get an equal say in the final results and no voter has an unfair advantage.

Why approval voting instead of instant-runoff voting?

Instant-runoff voting, or IRV, is functionally the same as a traditional runoff5 except, instead of making voters show up multiple times to vote, voters rank the candidates on their intial ballot. This ranking allows the voter to leave instructions on how they'd vote in subsequent runoff elections so they don't have to show up more than once.

Importantly, IRV suffers from every problem traditional runoffs have except for candidate and voter fatigue (i.e. excessive campaign resource drain, apathy toward continued elections, etc.)

Furthermore, while sixteen cities across the country have adopted IRV in order to improve their elections, importantly, five of these sixteen cities (31%) have repealed IRV due to a myriad of issues. These issues include ballot complexity, calculation complexity, voter confusion, and also because they’ve experienced election failures due to the fact that IRV is non-monotonic6. This means that voters can get better results by either not being sincere or not even showing up.

An election system that can punish voters for showing up is not a desirable election system.

While no voting system is perfect and all voting systems (FPTP, IRV, approval, etc.) suffer problems, the task force determined that approval voting's benefits outweigh those of both our current FPTP system and IRV, thusly recommending it instead.

Why do the results for the multi-winner races in N.D. always seem off?

The N.D. Secretary of State’s office reports percentages7 for all races, ultimately, as “number of ovals for candidate X filled / number of total ovals filled for that race” and, for most races, this isn’t really an issue that needs to be addressed.

There are two situations where the percentages provide misleading notions about the state of a race, however: races where there are very few voters who engage and multi-winner races.

For races where few voters engage, what that means is, during an election, some races will only be voted on by a fraction of the total voters, since it’s common for voters to skip sections of the ballot. Given that the N.D. SoS reports the total number of voters overall, but not the number of voters who voted in every race, this can imply that more of the voting public voted for a candidate than actually did.

For example, if the N.D. SoS reports that 10,000 voters participated in the election yet omits the fact that only one voter voted for anyone in the Fargo mayoral race, the person she voted for would be reported as winning with 100% of the vote, implying all 10,000 voters also voted for the winner. While such an extreme example has never occurred, it should be clear that this can provide a misleading result under many circumstances.

For multi-winner races, this problem is exacerbated further. Imagine 10,000 voters voting under our current system for the Fargo City Commission race which has two winners and allows voters to vote for up to two of them. If every voter each votes for both candidates X and Y together, both X and Y would win... and be reported to have each won with 50% of the vote. This is because each candidate would have received 10,000 “ovals” divided by 20,000 “total filled-in ovals”. It can be contended that both X and Y should be considered to have received 100% support of the voters, not just 50% each. Because of this issue, reports of vote percentages in multi-winner races are perceptually skewed downward.

In order for percentages for any multi-winner race to be reported in a non-misleading fashion, they should be calculated as "total-votes-for-candidate-X / total-voters-engaged-in-race" or "total-votes-for-candidate-X / total-ballots-cast".

For our ballot initiative, we chose to mandate that percentages be calculated with "total-votes-for-candidate-X / total-ballots-cast" for two reasons: 1) Current Cass county election equipment is not capable of providing "total-voters-engaged-in-race" and; 2) we want to shed light on the lack of engagement many races receive and fight the skew that occurs when facing the first scenario we outlined above.

Where is approval voting used?

We proudly use it in Fargo.

Fargo is the first city to do so in American history. Our sister organization, STL Approves, followed our lead and worked to successfully bring Approval Voting to St. Louis, Missouri to become the second American city; and, on top of that, organizations across the country use this system for elections, from the staff senate at North Dakota State University to the student body at the University of Colorado at Boulder to the Mathematical Association of America to the Texas Libertarian Party. Government elections, such as those asking the public to choose acceptable options for infrastructure projects, have also been administered throughout the United States using this system.

In addition, the State of North Dakota almost adopted this system for statewide elections in 1987—it passed the Senate but died in the House.

And, as our ballot initiative proved, approval voting is not a radical idea for North Dakota—that's why we have it here in Fargo, now.

Who's behind Reform North Dakota?

We're a team of passionate volunteers and supporters from across the political spectrum who believe in making our community better. We're headed up by Jed Limke, an engineer who served on the City of Fargo’s Elections and Governance Task Force and led our 2018 ballot initiative to an overwhelming victory to make Fargo the first city in the nation to use approval voting.

How do we contact you?

You can reach @ReformFargo on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, or by emailing us.

Reform ND? What happened to Reform Fargo?

They're both us! Officially our 501(c)(4) non-profit is registered as Reform North Dakota with a doing-business-as designation of Reform Fargo. As we have been shifting to focus on combating statewide attacks on voting rights, expect to see content branded as both Reform ND and Reform Fargo from time to time. The need to improve election systems is not just a Fargo problem, it's a statewide one, as clearly demonstrated by all of the support and enthusiasm we've received from across the state, from Bowman to Bathgate... and everywhere in between.

  1. Vote splitting is an electoral effect in which the distribution of votes among multiple similar candidates reduces the chance of winning for any of those candidates, increasing the chance of winning for a dissimilar candidate.

  2. 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.

  3. In the process of setting electoral districts, gerrymandering is a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular group by manipulating district boundaries, making them intentionally favor some groups of voters over others. To that end it may be used to help or hinder a particular demographic, such as a political, ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, or class group, or simply be utilized to protect incumbents from competitive elections.

  4. The basic concept of the shortest-splitline algorithm would be to take the entire city and iteratively split it in two based on population until reaching the desired number of wards. Each split uses the shortest bisecting line possible.

  5. Instant-Runoff Voting is a single-winner method which works by requiring voters to rank candidates from first place to last place on their ballots. When counting the votes, only candidates ranked at the tops of the ballots are counted. If no candidate reaches the win threshold (e.g. 50% + 1 vote for a single-winner race), the candidate who received the least first-place votes is eliminated from all ballots. This opens space on some ballots for lower-ranked candidates to “slide up” and then the candidates at the tops of the ballots are counted again. This process is repeated until a winner is found.

  6. A voting system that is non-monotonic is, counterintuitively, a system in which a winner can be changed to a loser by experiencing an increase in support or a loser can be changed to a winner by experiencing a decrease in support. One notable example of this failure occurred in the 2009 mayoral race in Burlington, VT.

  7. Percentages as reported by the North Dakota Secretary of State's office for city commission elections from 2016 and earlier have implied less of a mandate than the commissioners actually received. It should be noted that in the 2016 election, however, neither of the winners would have received a traditional majority winning percentage even with this taken into account.