Bill standardizing voting process statewide would end Fargo ‘approval voting’ experiment

Not so long ago, citizens could go to the polls to vote for one candidate per office and expect to learn who straight out won or lost sometime before midnight. But that’s nothing to take for granted anymore, as more local and state officials experiment with the ranked-choice voting process that only insiders understand, as well as other alternative voting gimmicks that can complicate, prolong and distort the outcome. (See colleague Bill Glahn’s analysis of ranked-choice voting here.)

Forum News points out that Fargo has been at the forefront of implementing another exotic voting system dubbed “approval voting.” It allows citizens to vote for as many candidates as they want, no holds barred.

The city made history in 2020 when Fargo became the first city in the United States to use approval voting in a municipal election.

Fargo voters also got the chance to vote for all their top candidates in 2022.

“Approval voting is astoundingly simple,” added Anread Denault, vice president of the Equal Vote Coalition. “You basically get to say yes or no to every candidate and the person who gets the most yeses is the winner, it’s simple.”

But some state lawmakers view alternative voting methods like Fargo’s as part of a troubling nationwide trend that undermines the integrity of the electoral system. A measure under consideration in the state house would standardize the traditional voting process, banning alternative methods for tallying ballots and determining election outcomes.

A bill introduced in the North Dakota House of Representatives seeks to alter the way votes are tallied and if approved, would prohibit rank-choice voting and approval voting systems throughout the state of North Dakota, including Fargo.

Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, helped introduce House Bill 1273 on Jan. 11, and views the ban as protecting American standards in light of national events. The bill applies to any races for local, state or federal offices.

Fargo elected officials strongly oppose a statewide standard for the election process. They insist the alternative voting system in place went off without a hitch in the last two elections.

The new bill would strip approval voting from Fargo’s ordinance and revert the city back to the way they used to conduct elections, Koppelman said.

[Fargo Mayor Tim] Mahoney asserts approval voting is working well in Fargo.

“I don’t know why Ben Koppelman wants to interfere with how the voters of Fargo want to manage their election,” Mahoney said, noting the approval voting method stemmed from the will of Fargo residents after a 2018 ballot measure.

Mahoney also argues the rights granted under the city’s home rule charter come into play. But supporters say the importance of standardizing the election process outweighs other considerations.

“(Home rule charter) has been a tradition in North Dakota forever,” the mayor said. “We like our communities to have some say in how they legislate themselves.”

The bill would override that, according to Koppelman, who said the piece of legislation is necessary as national elections have recently shown the shortcomings of alternative voting systems.