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Minutes vote issue settled

Fargo residents will be able to vote Nov. 2 on whether City Commission minutes should be published even though the vote won't count and should not be on the ballot.

Mike Montplaisir

Fargo residents will be able to vote Nov. 2 on whether City Commission minutes should be published even though the vote won't count and should not be on the ballot.

Cass County Auditor Mike Montplaisir said he can't instruct people not to vote on any ballot issue.

"It would confuse the issue," Montplaisir said.

Though the votes won't count, the numbers will be tallied and are public record.

The county's voting machines automatically count the votes. The question -- "Shall the minutes of the Fargo City Commission meetings be published in the official newspaper at taxpayer expense? Yes? No?" -- can't be omitted from the process at this point, Montplaisir said.

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The city mistakenly placed the measure on the Nov. 2 ballot even though residents already approved it -- minus the phrase "at taxpayer expense" -- with 78 percent of the vote during the June 8 election.

North Dakota law says this question should be put to a vote every four years, but City Auditor Steve Sprague and others who approved the ballot say they weren't aware of that rule and thought the "taxpayer expense" phrase was OK as long as they didn't advertise the actual cost.

The question also was placed on the ballot without the Fargo City Commission's approval, though officials are still trying to decide whether that step is required.

Fargo city commissioners say they first learned of the ballot error Monday and have since been trying to figure out how it happened and how to keep it from happening again.

Because the votes on this measure will be tallied election night, they'll also become public record, Montplaisir said.

"What the city does with them is up to them," he said.

But Fargo City Commissioner Mike Williams said he wants to make it clear to voters that the city will not derive anything from the vote.

Williams said he'll coordinate with Montplaisir to have signs posted at the precincts saying that the vote has no authority. This will be allowed as long as people aren't being instructed not to vote.

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"It's about as good as we can do," Williams said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mary Jo Almquist at (701) 241-5531

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