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Letter: Fargo approved of approval voting. Now what?

Oxendahl writes, "Approval voting allows you to vote for all the candidates you approve of, not just your favorite. Instead of voting for one candidate on your ballot if one office is open, you can vote for any number of candidates you like. The candidate who receives the most votes still wins."

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Whitney Oxendahl is a League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley board member.
Contributed / Whitney Oxendahl
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In November 2018, Fargo was put on the map, but not for football or its economic activity this time. It was the first city in the nation to adopt approval voting - with over 63% of Fargo voters stamping their approval. For many outside the election science sphere, it passed as a blip on the radar.

The 2020 election proceeded in a whirlwind of pandemic voting and vote-by-mail, and approval voting went largely unnoticed in Fargo with a smaller field of candidates than usual.

Now with a large field of 15 Fargo City Commission candidates heading into the June 14th primary, voters may have questions on how this new voting system works. We at the League of Women Voters want to make sure you feel informed and prepared as you fill out your ballot.

First, what is approval voting?

Approval voting allows you to vote for all the candidates you approve of, not just your favorite. Instead of voting for one candidate on your ballot if one office is open, you can vote for any number of candidates you like. The candidate who receives the most votes still wins.

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How does approval voting look in practice?

There are two open seats for Fargo City Commission this primary and 15 candidates are running. Say you have one favorite candidate, you fill in the oval next to that one name. If you are okay with five of them, vote for all five. If you’re okay with 12 of the 13, vote for those. Whichever candidates you are OK with winning, vote for that number. Then whichever two candidates get the highest number of votes from Fargo voters will be on the city commission after June 14th.

Which races use approval voting?

Fargo mayor, Fargo City Commission, and municipal judge races use approval voting. Fargo School Board and Fargo Park District do not.

Is approval voting the same as ranked-choice voting?

No, you are not ranking the candidates. You are instead voting for any you approve of.

Why the push for a new voting system?

One reason the organizers of the ballot measure pushed for an alternative voting system was due to candidates continually winning city races with a third of the vote or less. After approval voting was adopted, the two winners of the Fargo City Commission race in 2020 won with over 50% of the vote.

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Historically in Cass County, most voters — a whopping 95% — vote in person, either voting early or on election day, so this year will allow Fargo voters to test this new system of voting outside of 2020’s vote-by-mail election.

To learn more about the Fargo candidates, you can join us for our candidate forums on April 20th, April 21st and May 4th at Fargo City Hall.

We at the League of Women Voters believe informed voters are empowered voters. That’s what we vote for.

Whitney Oxendahl is a League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley board member.

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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