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Approval voting to get its second major test with record slate of candidates in Fargo

Views are mixed on the impact approval voting will have on the races for mayor and City Commission in the June 14 election.

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FARGO — The city’s relatively new approval voting system will get its second major test next month when residents go to the polls to elect a mayor and two city commissioners from a wide slate of candidates.

Seven people are vying for mayor and 15 people are running for two seats on the City Commission in the June 14 election, record numbers in both races.

Under approval voting, passed in 2018, city residents can vote for as many or as few candidates as they want, and the candidate or candidates with the most votes wins.

Jed Limke, chairman of Reform Fargo, the group that spearheaded approval voting, said it gives residents the freedom to vote without worrying about spoiling or splitting a race.

“You can always show support to your favorites… which you could not necessarily do in the previous system that we had,” Limke said.

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But a critic of approval voting says it’s not the answer for what it’s aiming to fix.

Mark Johnson, a political science instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College, spoke out against approval voting before it was passed in 2018 and is still not a fan.

He said he won’t be surprised if a mayor is elected with 30% of the vote or less, and two commissioners, with 25% each or less, next month.

Approval voting came out of a task force set up in 2016 following another city election with a large slate of candidates.

Of the 11 on the ballot for city commission that year, the winners were Tony Grindberg with 16% of the vote and John Strand with 15%.

The pretext behind the task force was to find a way to get closer to a majority result or something more representative of the city as a whole, Johnson said.

Limke said he thinks approval voting will positively impact the city races.

He pointed to the first time it was used in 2020, when John Strand at 24% and Arlette Preston at 23% were elected to the city commission with higher numbers than typically seen in previous races, he said.

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Limke acknowledged, however, that it was a smaller, six-way race.

Johnson said studies show with an approval voting system, voters eventually figure out they’re better off “bullet voting” or voting for just one candidate.

He explained a scenario where a voter likes three candidates on the ballot, but clearly prefers candidate “A.”

If they end up voting for all three and candidate “C” wins, they find themselves wishing they had just voted for “A” and not helped tip the scales to their least favorite choice.

Johnson said he’s also not surprised there are a record number of candidates running.

As Fargo continues to grow, there are more people with very different points of view who may think the city is not representing them in some way, he said.

The mayoral candidates for the June election (in alphabetical order) are Michael Borgie, Hukun Dabar, Dustin Elliot, Sheri Fercho, Tim Mahoney (incumbent), Arlette Preston and Shannon Roers Jones.

In the Fargo City Commission race, 15 candidates are vying for two seats.

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The terms of commissioners Tony Gehrig and Dave Piepkorn expire in June; Piepkorn is running for reelection but Gehrig is not.

The candidates (in alphabetical order) are Matuor Alier, Jennifer Benson, Al Carlson, Philip Deery, Anna Johnson, Victoria Johnson, Denise Kolpack, Branden Krieger, T.G. Tom Magin, Ves Marinov, Dave Piepkorn (incumbent), Jodi Plecity, Ahmed Shiil, Will Thompson and Lenny Tweeden.

One candidate, T.G. Tom Magin, told The Forum in April that he and all of the candidates are “long-shots” due to Fargo’s approval voting system.

He said his No. 1 goal, if elected, would be to push for a ward system or other form of representation.

Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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