State Legislature a step closer to stripping Fargo of approval voting system
“We’ll continue to oppose this bill,” Mayor Tim Mahoney said after the North Dakota House passed House Bill 1273 on Wednesday, Feb. 15, behind a 74-19 vote.
FARGO — The state Legislature is one step closer to forbidding Fargo from continuing to use approval voting in municipal elections.
House representatives on Wednesday, Feb. 15, voted 74-19 to pass House Bill 1273 , which would prohibit rank-choice voting and approval voting systems throughout the state of North Dakota, including Fargo where the last two elections have utilized approval voting. The bill will now move to the Senate.
An amendment to the bill to grandfather Fargo's approval voting system in, and allow the city to continue utilizing the method while outlawing it in the rest of the state, failed 65-28.
Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said he was disappointed the amendment failed, adding that he didn't believe representatives truly understood why Fargo needed to enact approval voting in the first place.
Approval voting, which was adopted by the city in 2018, allows Fargo residents to cast votes for all candidates they approve of in municipal races, such as the mayoral and city commission elections. The candidate with the most votes wins the seat.
Fifteen candidates vied for two open seats during the Fargo City Commission race in 2022 , creating a crowded field rarely seen elsewhere in the state, Mahoney said. Approval voting helps Fargo select the most popular candidates out of a crowd while also preventing the vote from splitting and having a candidate win office with minimal support from the voting public.
“This whole issue came about in 2016,” Mahoney told a few members of the Legislature on Feb. 9. “At the end of that election, we had two commissioners that were elected with 16% of the vote and 14% of the vote.”
Under approval voting in 2020, the two candidates who won the commission race had 55% of the vote and 53% of the vote, Mahoney said.
Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, who introduce the bill, said both approval voting and ranked-choice voting are "not American."
“This bill was brought before (the House) to ensure that all citizens of North Dakota have their constitutional and civic rights protected by the state and not… be diluted… by the city or by the local ballot," Koppelman said.
North Dakota has traditionally used plurality voting, Koppelman said, with Fargo the one exception. Fargo was the first city in the nation to use approval voting in a municipal election .
Plurality voting means the person with the most votes wins the election, regardless of what percentage they get. Unlike ranked-choice voting, in both plurality voting and approval voting, a candidate does not need a simple majority of more than 50% of the vote to win.
Should the bill pass the Senate, Mahoney said the city plans to seek a veto from Republican Gov. Doug Burgum.
The city of will pursue legal action if Burgum denies a veto, Mahoney said, noting the issue boils down to home rule authority and if the state Legislature can legally overturn a "vote of the people," like the one that enacted approval voting in Fargo.
“In fairness to the people (of Fargo) we have to try to find a solution to the issue,” the mayor said.
Rep. LaurieBeth Hager, D-Fargo, spoke in favor of the amendment citing it a "local issue."
"Let's go with what the locals voted on.… If they want to change it then… the community of Fargo can decide that," said Hager, referencing the action taken by Fargo citizens to create the ballot measure, which passed behind a 63.5% vote.
In favor of both the bill and of the amendment, Rep. Donald Longmuir, R-Stanley, said grandfathering in Fargo would have respected the vote of Fargo residents, inherent in Fargo’s Home Rule Charter.
Mahoney said the charter is a "sacred right that the state of North Dakota values." Home rule charter allows local people to make local decisions, he added.
Supporters of the bill, including Rep. Matt Heilman, R-Bismarck, said the bill is a "great way to solidify our current system that has worked well for us over many years."
No one spoke against the bill Wednesday.
Nine of the 19 representatives who opposed the bill were from Fargo, while Rep. Jim Jonas was the lone opposer from West Fargo.
Six Fargo representatives voted in favor of the bill, including Rep. Jim Kasper, the lone Fargo state lawmaker to help introduce the bill. He also introduced and then summarily withdrew HB 1319 , which sought to ban only ranked-choice voting statewide.
Fargo state representatives who opposed HB 1273
- Hamida Dakane, D-District 10
- Steve Swiontek, R-District 10
- Liz Conmy, D-Discrict 11
- Gretchen Dobervich, D-District 11
- LaurieBeth Hager, D-District 21
- Mary Schneider, D-District 21
- Josh Boschee, D-District 44
- Karla Rose Hanson, D-District 44
- Shannon Roers Jones, R-District 46
Fargo state representatives in favor of HB 1273
- Josh Christy, R-District 27
- Greg Stemen, R-District 27
- Jorin Johnson, R-District 41
- Michelle Strinden, R-District 41
- Carrie McLeod, R-District 45
- Jim Kasper, R-District 46