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Strand and Preston emerge as leaders in Fargo City Commission race

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John Strand, candidate for Fargo City Commission, sees election results Tuesday, June 9, from his office at the High Plains Reader. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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FARGO — It was a first for a Fargo City Commission election in a few ways.

It was the first time that approval voting was used, a system that allows city residents to vote for as many — or as few — candidates as they want.

Voters approved the unique way of voting in a 2018 election by a wide margin after previous elections left some residents concerned that commissioners were elected with a small percentage of the vote.

In this race, residents chose from a field of six candidates to fill two seats on the commission, with the two candidates with the most approval votes winning.

With preliminary and unofficial results from 22 of 22 precincts, early leaders in the race on Tuesday night, June 9, were incumbent John Strand with 24% of the vote and challenger Arlette Preston leading for the second seat on the commission with 23% of the vote .

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Incumbent Tony Grindberg was running in third place with 22% of the vote, with the other candidates all below 10% of the vote.

The final results won't be known until an election canvassing board meets on Monday, June 15, with the final tabulation released at that time.

The delayed results add to the list of firsts. In what is thought to be the first time, the city election was a mail-in ballot only vote because of the coronavirus pandemic.

County Finance Director Mike Montplaisir, who oversees elections in the county, said there were about 10,000 ballots that could still be counted as about 37,000 ballots were sent out countywide, and as of Tuesday night, 25,565 had been counted.

It's not known how many were left to be counted from only Fargo.

Montplaisir said some ballots mailed in Saturday, Sunday or Monday may not have arrived at the courthouse. But if they were postmarked by Monday they can still be counted.

However, he said some ballots sent out to voters likely won't be returned. He was hoping to have 30,000 of the ballots counted by Tuesday night, but it didn't happen. The turnout for city voting was expected to be among the highest.

The Fargo election featured veteran faces in city politics as well as newcomers. With unofficial results, it appeared as if the familiar faces were going to win.

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Strand, who was seeking his second term, led the field in unofficial returns with 9,488 votes. He served on the Fargo School Board for two terms before running for city office.

The co-owner and operator of the High Plains Reader, an alternative weekly newspaper that's discontinued publication since the pandemic struck, is known for his support of neighborhoods, affordable housing and efforts to help the underprivileged.

"This is the kind of feedback I like to get," Strand said about his lead in the race. "We have a lot of work to do. But I'm glad to get another chance to work on behalf of the people."

Preston is also a familiar face in city politics as she served for two terms on the City Commission in the 1990s. She had 9,059 votes as of Tuesday night. A lifelong nurse, she developed a business with an 85-member staff that has helped seniors stay in their homes. She has since retired.

Her campaign focused on helping neighborhoods and families thrive with goals of increasing child care access and affordability, more affordable housing options and living wages.

Preston said she felt good about the early results, but said she is a cautious person and wasn't going to celebrate until she saw complete vote totals.

Still with a chance to retain his seat and a second term was Grindberg, an administrator with the North Dakota State College of Science, who was a state senator representing a south Fargo district for 22 years. He had 8,424 votes as of Tuesday night.

Grindberg has been a downtown booster who supports tax breaks for expanding businesses and others moving into the city. A phone message left for him Tuesday night was not immediately returned.

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Other candidates included Bradford Shaffer, who withdrew from the race last month; Doug Rymph, a retired North Dakota State University professor; Ritchell Aboah, a personal banker and one of the local leaders of the Black Lives Matter group; and Ed Krystosek, a field services manager for Case IH and a registered gun dealer.

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