Push to override veto of approval voting ban fails in North Dakota Senate

Gov. Doug Burgum said in a veto letter that the approval voting ban represents an “egregious example of state overreach” that “blatantly infringes on local control."

A woman with short, gray hair and glasses holds a mounted microphone and speaks into it.
North Dakota Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, speaks on the Senate floor on Thursday, March 30, 2023.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — North Dakota senators failed to override Gov. Doug Burgum’s veto of a bill that would have outlawed the approval voting method used by Fargo in some city elections.

A 28-19 vote in the Republican-led Senate on Wednesday, April 19, means Burgum’s veto of House Bill 1273 stands, and the proposal will not go into effect. The legislation sponsored by Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, would have banned ranked-choice and approval voting in North Dakota.

Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber — 32 votes in the Senate and 63 in the House of Representatives, which cleared that bar earlier this month.

In March, 33 senators voted for the bill, but six Republican members switched their allegiance Wednesday: Jeff Barta, Grand Forks; Randy Burckhard, Minot; Dick Dever, Bismarck; Michael Dwyer, Bismarck; Curt Kreun, Grand Forks; and Jim Roers, Fargo.

Burgum said earlier this month the approval voting ban represents an “egregious example of state overreach” that “blatantly infringes on local control." The Republican governor noted the legislation would invite lawsuits against the state.


In 2018, 64% of Fargo voters endorsed a measure to enact an approval voting system for certain municipal elections. The alternative voting method asks voters to select all of the candidates they favor rather than a single candidate. Proponents of approval voting in Fargo contend the system promotes the election of the most popular candidates from large fields of candidates.

No other cities in the state are known to use approval or ranked-choice voting methods.

Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, told colleagues Wednesday that overriding Burgum’s veto would improperly strip Fargo of its popular voting method. 

“At best, (House Bill) 1273 is a legislative solution in search of a local government problem where none exists. At worst, it’s an unnecessary incursion, intrusion and disruption to the balance of local control and the democratic process,” Lee said.

Sen. Sean Cleary, R-Bismarck, said Fargoans who dislike approval voting should take the issue up in a local measure rather than looking to the state for a blanket policy. 

“It really doesn’t sit right with me that a pretty clear majority of residents in a city … chose that this is how they want to govern their local elections and that we come along and say that we know better than them,” Cleary said.

Supporters of Koppelman’s legislation said approval voting strays from the American voting tradition of "one person, one vote."

Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, said the state bears responsibility for regulating local elections, noting cities like Fargo are “creatures of statute.”


“I believe there’s a broader statewide interest in having uniformity in how our elections are done,” Myrdal said. “By introducing and passing this current bill … the Legislature properly is exercising its authority to regulate the way elections are conducted in our entire state.”

North Dakota Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, speaks on the Senate floor on Wednesday, April 19, 2023.
North Dakota Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, speaks on the Senate floor on Wednesday, April 19, 2023.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney celebrated the Senate vote, noting the will of local voters was upheld. Mahoney attributed Wednesday’s outcome to efforts by city officials and approval voting proponents to educate senators on the issue over the last few weeks.

Jed Limke, who spearheaded the push to adopt approval voting in Fargo, said he's thankful for the senators "who stood by citizens of Fargo" and for the advocates of approval voting who helped persuade legislators to oppose the bill.

The Senate vote to override Burgum’s veto

YES: Axtman, Beard, Boehm, Clemens, Conley, Davison, Elkin, Erbele, Estenson, Hogan*, Hogue, Kannianen, Klein, Larsen, Larson, Lemm, Luick, Magrum, Meyer, Myrdal, Patten, Paulson, Rust, Schaible, Vedaa, Weber, Weston and Wobbema.

NO: Barta, Bekkedahl, Braunberger, Burckhard, Cleary, Dever, Dwyer, Kessel, Krebsbach, Kreun, Lee, Mathern, Piepkorn, J. Roers, K. Roers, Rummel, Sickler, Sorvaag and Wanzek.

Bold denotes legislators who live in Fargo.

*Sen. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, told Forum News Service she accidentally pressed the wrong button when voting Wednesday and intended to vote "no."

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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