North Dakota Gov. Burgum vetoes bill to ban approval voting

Burgum called House Bill 1273 an “egregious example of state overreach” that “blatantly infringes on local control."

approval voting
Fargo residents campaigning for the approval voting ballot measure in 2018.
Submitted photo / Andrea Denault

BISMARCK — A bill passed by both chambers of the North Dakota Legislature to ban approval voting throughout the state was vetoed by Gov. Doug Burgum on Thursday, April 6.

Calling House Bill 1273 an “egregious example of state overreach” that “blatantly infringes on local control,” Burgum wrote in a veto letter that none of the dozen legislative sponsors were from Fargo — the only city in the state that uses approval voting — and that home rule charter regarding voting methods is clearly outlined by law in North Dakota Century Code.

The legislation sponsored by Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, would prohibit ranked-choice and approval voting systems throughout North Dakota. An amendment to the bill to grandfather Fargo's approval voting system failed in the House.

Koppelman told The Forum in January that the ban would protect American standards. He said approval voting allows voters to simultaneously select every candidate they like instead of just one top choice.

The Senate passed the bill in a 33-13 vote last week, while the House approved the legislation with a 74-19 vote in February. Both margins clear the two-thirds majority threshold that lawmakers would need to replicate to override Burgum's veto.


The House is slated to vote on an override Friday. If the override vote is successful, the bill would move back to the Senate.

North Dakota House Majority Leader Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson, reading Gov. Doug Burgum's veto of House Bill 1273 on Thursday, April 6, 2023..jpg
North Dakota House Majority Leader Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson, reading Gov. Doug Burgum's veto letter of House Bill 1273 on Thursday, April 6, 2023.
Jack Dura / The Bismarck Tribune

Burgum said counties and cities “do not and should not” have authority to implement approval voting or ranked-choice methods for state and federal elected office.

“Home rule authority applies only to local elections,” he wrote, adding legislators were demonstrating a lack of respect for local control.

In the veto letter, Burgum went on to say that the bill “blatantly infringes on local control and the ability of residents in home rule cities to determine which method of local city election is best for their communities based on the unique aspects of city elections.”

Burgum also disregarded the “one person, one vote” argument saying voters already often have the opportunity to vote for multiple candidates for multiple seats on a city council or county commission.

Approval voting was enacted in Fargo in 2018 with 64% of those casting ballots supporting the new voting system.

None of the 18 legislators who represent Fargo wished to “subvert the will of Fargo residents” and overturn the majority approval of the ballot measure five years after it was passed, Burgum wrote.

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said he appreciated Burgum's veto of HB 1273 because, if enacted, the bill would prohibit local voters from choosing the manner in which their local government officials are elected.


"I will be candid in saying I was not an original proponent of the concept, but I came around to understanding and appreciating its merits. I fully support this manner of voting as the choice of our residents; our voters have spoken," Mahoney told The Forum.

“House Bill 1273 also rolls back the power granted to all 155 cities — across every North Dakota legislative district — that have adopted a home rule charter under North Dakota Century Code … which states that home rule cities have authority to provide for all matters pertaining to city elections, except as to qualifications of electors,” Burgum wrote.

Burgum also stated that HB 1273, if it became law, would bring the state into court proceedings.

Mahoney encouraged anyone who is a proponent of approval voting, or of local control and Home Rule authority, to reach out to state lawmakers and express their opinions on the matter.

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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