FARGO — Fargo voters showed overwhelming support for approval voting Tuesday, Nov. 6, as their new system to pick their mayor and city commissioners.
It will be the first city in the U.S. to put approval voting to the test, proponents said.
In unofficial results, voters backed changing Fargo's home rule charter by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. Sixty-four percent of voters cast ballots in favor of the measure and 36 percent voted against it, with all 21 precincts reporting as of 11:20 p.m. Tuesday.
Jed Limke, chairman of Reform Fargo, the group that got approval voting on the ballot, said that all of the informational campaigning and door-knocking paid off.
"We’re proud of the work that we did, and we are proud of the Fargo voters who felt that this was a necessary change," Limke said. “We think that (approval voting) will make our government better and make it more responsive, and we think it will drive up turnout over time."
Fargo, like other cities, has used the traditional plurality voting system. However, without a runoff election to winnow down candidate fields, votes for mayor and other City Commission seats have been fragmented.
Measure 1 amends the city's home rule charter to allow voters to vote for as many candidates for mayor or each open commission seat as they want. The candidate or candidates with the most votes then wins.
The Center for Election Science provided $50,000 in grants to pay for an educational and advocacy campaign. Aaron Hamlin, the center's executive director, arrived in Fargo Saturday to help local organizers strategize and was part of the Reform Fargo watch party at The Bowler on Tuesday night.
Approval voting "empowers voters in a way that’s incredible," Hamlin said. "With approval voting, you can always support your honest favorite."
Political scientist Mark Johnson opposed the measure, and he expects that over time, voters will move away from voting for multiple favorites.
"With nine or 11 candidates, you still will see a lot of split votes," said Johnson, who teaches political science and history at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead.
Johnson said other organizations have found that within an election or two, voters go back to picking one favorite. "People will realize it is to their advantage to vote for only their top choice," he said.
With the win in Fargo, Center for Election Science officials are hopeful for the future of alternative voting methods, as voters will finally be able to see the benefits of approval voting in a real election. Hamlin said his group plans to move forward with educational campaigns to encourage other North Dakota cities to adopt approval voting.
“Fargo voters have chosen a practical solution to the plights that come with our terrible choose-one voting method. They are armed against vote splitting and spoilers. And they've equipped themselves with a tool to elect strong candidates, encourage diverse ideas in campaigns, and permit support for favorite candidates without worry over viability," Hamlin said.