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Fargo residents provide input on election reform

Mayor Tim Mahoney speaks at a public input session on election reform Wednesday, Dec. 12, at Carl Ben Eielson Middle School. The session focused on two changes the commission is considering, including increasing the commission size from five to seven members and changing to a new voting system called approval voting. Kim Hyatt / The Forum

FARGO – Around 50 people gathered Wednesday, Dec. 13, to give feedback on proposed election reform as the Fargo City Commission considers adding more members and switching to a new voting system that no other U.S. city uses.

There was no opposition in the crowd to increasing the size of the commission from five to seven members, which was recommended by a seven-member task force created in August to study election reform.

Bruce Furness, former Fargo mayor and chairman of the task force, said the group voted unanimously to have seven commissioners serve the city.

Task Force member Jed Limke said having more commissioners means each member would go from representing 24,000 residents to 17,000. By comparison, he said N.D. Senators represent 14,000 residents.

The task force also recommended a new voting system called approval voting. Nearly all who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting were unconvinced that just because the system is not used in any other city doesn’t mean it can’t be implemented here. Many said the process is a more expressive and democratic way of voting because it allows residents to vote for as many candidates on a ballot as they like.

Several said approval voting would allow a better representation of voters’ preferences. Only one resident objected to approval voting, saying it was a socialist system and people should make a single decision of where their vote should go, such as with the current voting system.

A majority of those who spoke said they would prefer the commision draft ballot language and ask residents to decide if the voting system should be implemented. To get it on the ballot, a group of residents would be required to collect around 2,000 signatures to create a ballot measure, but that route was not favored at the input session.

Also discussed Wednesday evening was the idea of switching commissioners from serving at-large to representing wards. The task force couldn’t reach a consensus on this matter and instead recommended the commission address it in the future. Commissioner Tony Gehrig said that by federal law, once a city reaches a certain threshold, a ward system must be implemented.

The task force also considered a general-primary voting system, but Mayor Tim Mahoney and others at the session said the extended timeframe was too long for a city election and would increase voter fatigue.

Commissioners delayed a voted on election reform Oct. 23 in order to get more public input.

Furness said commissioners would revisit the issue at their Dec. 18 meeting.

Kim Hyatt

Kim Hyatt is a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and a 2014 graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth. She started her newspaper career at the Owatonna People’s Press covering arts and education. In 2016, she received Minnesota Newspaper Association's Dave Pyle New Journalist Award and later that year she joined The Forum newsroom.

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