Fargo approval voting advocates submit 2,000 signatures to city

FARGO -- A group of volunteers trying to change the way the city elects its leaders have submitted around 2,000 signatures, about 600 more than is required to get on the November ballot, organizer Jed Limke said Monday, July 30.

FARGO - A group of volunteers trying to change the way the city elects its leaders have submitted around 2,000 signatures, about 600 more than is required to get on the November ballot, organizer Jed Limke said Monday, July 30.

"We have our buffer," he said. It's exciting to be done with signature gathering, he said, but there's a lot of work ahead as volunteers talk to voters about the benefits of approval voting.

The way the city elects commissioners and mayors now, a candidate can win when he or she has more votes than others. In recent years, when there's been a large field of candidates, winners often have not enjoyed a majority.

A task force studying election reforms, of which Limke was a member, recommended the city change to approval voting, a voting method that makes it more likely a winner will have a majority.

Reform Fargo is the name of the group pushing for the ballot initiative.

City Auditor Steve Sprague said his office will spend the rest of the week typing up as many of the names and addresses Limke submitted as possible and send out postcards for verification, a process similar to the state's.

It's partly to check if addresses submitted were real addresses - the post office would return those with wrong addresses - and if people living at those addresses deny they signed a petition, he said. If residents didn't return the postcards it wouldn't be a problem because the mailings are just a sampling method, he said.

The city hasn't had a petition for about a dozen years, he said, and the old way of verification using listed phone numbers doesn't work so well anymore with fewer people having landlines.

Volunteers, he said, already helped out by going through their petitions and crossing out duplicate signatures accidentally gathered or signatures from people who don't have Fargo addresses.

Sprague said he expects the verification will take about two weeks though state law allows up to 30 days.

There were 30 Reform Fargo volunteers working at community events like the AirSho and Street Fair attempting to educate voters on the initiative, according to Limke.

"The response on the street has been overwhelmingly supportive," Andrea Denault, campaign coordinator with the Center for Election Science, a national nonprofit group advising the local volunteers, said in an email to The Forum. "Most of the volunteers will tell you that nine out of 10 conversations they have with folks in the community are in favor of approval voting. That being said, the next phase of the campaign will be to broaden our reach through some more traditional methods such as door knocking, phone banking, and direct advertising."

Aaron Hamlin, Executive Director of The Center for Election Science, said in an email to The Forum that he is excited Reform Fargo garnered enough signatures to "transform our freedom-restricting ballot to a tool that empowers voters to support who they really believe in.

"We're optimistic that Fargo will be the first to use approval voting," Hamlin added.

"This initiative has had broad ideological support from the beginning because it's a nonpartisan tool that benefits Fargo voters," Hamlin said.

"Fargo can let the people of other cities know that they don't have to vote for the lesser evil 'viable' candidate - where 'viable' just means political name recognition and money. Instead, Fargo can show others how to use approval voting," Hamlin added.

Forum reporter Kim Hyatt contributed to this story.