Fargo task force recommends changing voting system, increasing number of city commissioners

FARGO-After exploring several voting systems, members of an elections task force recommended Thursday, Jan. 5, that the City Commission adopt "approval voting."Under approval voting, each voter would be allowed to "approve" any number of candidates.

FARGO-After exploring several voting systems, members of an elections task force recommended Thursday, Jan. 5, that the City Commission adopt "approval voting."

Under approval voting, each voter would be allowed to "approve" any number of candidates. The winner would be the most-approved candidate.

Members of the Election and City Governance Task Force believe Fargo would be the first city in the U.S. to use approval voting, which makes committee chairman and former Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness a little hesitant "to be the first one in the tank on this one."

But Fargo's traditional system of allowing voters to vote for individual candidates based on the number of open seats is "the least constructive method of voting and the most common," he said.

Switching to approval voting would require educating voters, because it is "complex," said task force member Arlette Preston, who added it would address the issue of someone being elected with little support from the public.

Mayor Tim Mahoney said the City Commission wanted task force members to look into a new voting system so the margin of victory would increase in city elections. The issue of commissioners being elected when they receive only 15 or 16 percent of the vote-as was the case in April 2016 when there were 11 candidates-prompted commissioners to ask a task force to look at alternatives.

Mahoney said he would need more information about approval voting before forming an opinion.

The seven-member task force also recommended increasing the number of city commissioners from five to seven.

"We just thought that as the city continues to grow, that they need more people representing the voters," said Bruce Furness, task force chairman and former mayor.

Task force member Arlette Preston said the City Commission has remained at four commissioners and the mayor despite the city's growth, and "it was time to really look at that." She served on the commission from 1992 to 2000.

Mahoney questioned whether increasing the number of commissioners by two would increase efficiency.

"If you go to seven, what are you going to gain by that?" he asked.

Other discussion among task force members was whether the commission should change representation to districts. Commissioners now serve at-large.

"When I was on the commission, I was the only person that lived south of Main. Everybody else lived north, " Preston said, adding that it's not good "geographical representation." But she said districts also carry with them the issue of parochialism.

Although the task force did not recommend that the commission change to districts, Preston said some task force members indicated the change will likely happen in the future.

Community conversations on districts are expected to continue after the task force's work is done. Preston said the League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley plans to discuss the issue of at-large versus district representation on the commission.

The task force meets for the last time on Jan. 19 to finalize a report for the City Commission. Mahoney said the recommendations will be included in the commission agenda for discussion within 30 days.