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Support for candidates is greater than what Fargo election results showed, approval voting proponents say

Jed Limke, chair of Reform Fargo, said the state is still not calculating election results from Fargo city races in the manner they should under approval voting.

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Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney thanks his supporters after finding out he was reelected on Tuesday, June 14, 2022, at the Hilton Garden Inn, Fargo.
Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
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FARGO — Proponents of Fargo’s approval voting system say candidates in the city election this week received more support than what the results indicated, and in some cases, a lot more.

Jed Limke, a software engineer and chairman of Reform Fargo, the group that spearheaded approval voting, said the numbers are not being tabulated the way they’re meant to under the system.

With approval voting, passed by the city in 2018, residents can vote for or “approve of” as many candidates as they wish.

Percentages reported on the North Dakota Secretary of State website give a false, low impression of support, Limke said.

The results would still be the same, with the person with the most votes winning, he said, but the low percentages factor into public perception of the support each candidate garnered.

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The number of votes each candidate received should be divided by the number of people who voted, which is not being done.

Using that formula, Limke said, Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney actually won reelection with support from more than 64% of voters rather than the 41% figure reported on the state’s website.

In other words, 64 of every 100 voters voted for him, Limke said.

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Calculations by proponents of approval voting show election winners garnering a higher percentage of the vote than is listed on the North Dakota Secretary of State's website.
Contributed / Jed Limke

Cass County has not yet calculated the total number of voters in the city election.

Election Coordinator DeAnn Buckhouse said that requires a precinct-by-precinct count, and the county has other post-election tasks that must be completed first.

What Limke used as a close estimate was the total number of votes on the term limits question, which was at the bottom of the ballot.

That total was 15,090, which Limke said would be the lowest number of possible voters, given the likelihood that some people skipped the term limits question.

Using more examples from the city mayoral race, Limke said Arlette Preston, who finished second to Mahoney, received 32% support rather than the 20% reported by the state.

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Shannon Roers Jones had 25% support rather than 16% per the state figure.

The differences were even more stark in the city commission race, where two people were elected.

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Fargo City Commission candidate Denise Kolpack talks with supporters Tuesday, June 14, 2022, at Tailgators, Fargo.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

Denise Kolpack garnered votes from more than 42% of voters using the different tabulation, instead of 14% as reported by the state.

Incumbent Dave Piepkorn received 39% support rather than the reported 13%, Limke said.

“What percentage of the voters supported a candidate? That's what we're truly after. … We get a better sense of that when we calculate this correctly,” Limke said.

Doing the math, Limke also found people voted, on average, for 1.5 candidates in the Fargo mayoral race and just over 3 candidates in the city commission race.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger acknowledged the state is not reporting the numbers for the Fargo city races the way it should, given the approval voting system.

He said his office will have to make programming changes in order for the Fargo city results to show up correctly on their website.

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There’s time to do that, he said, because approval voting doesn’t factor into the November general election. The change could be made before the next city election two years from now.

When Fargo said yes to approval voting in 2018, it was the first city in the nation to do so.

St. Louis, Missouri, has since approved it and used it for the first time in March 2021.

People in Seattle will decide this November whether they want to adopt approval voting for city races after a campaign secured enough qualifying signatures, the Seattle Times reported this week.

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