City commissioner and mayoral elections under approval voting
Mayoral and city commissioner elections are coming up in June and approval voting will be a new concept for many voters. With a large group of candidates for each race, approval voting will allow voters to not only vote for their top choice, but any other candidates they approve of.
Not to be confused with rank voting, approval voting allows voters to vote for as many people as possible with the votes all having equal power. The winner is calculated with the most votes winning the seat.
Fargo does statewide elections for city commissioner and the mayoral race which has been criticized as the city grows and election winners are only winning by a few percentage points. The reason for Fargo implementing approval voting is due to the fact that in recent years there have been few true majority winners. In the 2018 elections for city commissioner, the top two candidates won with only 17.97% and 16.55% of the vote according to the ND Secretary of State records.
In an effort to increase representation, Fargo took to approval voting. In the 2020 election the number of votes doubled, meaning people were using the new system, but there was little change in the efforts to gain a larger majority of votes for the winner. The top candidates in the 2020 election had won 23.25% and 23.08% of the votes.
“Not a whole lot changes in terms of percentage. You still have a pretty low percentage for people who are winning,” said Dr. Nick Bauroth, Professor of Political Science and Department chair. “If you compare it to the 22,254 votes counted in 2018, here it’s 42,000 (the 2020 elections) which means people are doing this, but it’s not really making it more representative, it’s just sort of spreading it around.”
There have been criticisms with the new approval voting system but supporters are hopeful that with the ending of lockdown the results will show a much better outcome in terms of majority representation.
“In terms of the actual votes some people are using it and it’s getting more votes out there” Dr. Bauroth said. “The pay off really is not there, it’s not necessarily more representative, you’re just casting more votes.”
Dr. Bauroth discussed the approval voting, a relatively new system that in Fargo is seen as the first of its kind.
“The idea is that it is more supportive of candidates, you might like one or two or just one person in particular, but you might also think that ‘these other people have better chance of winning and you don’t want this person down here to win’ therefore you can throw your vote around and have it be more representative, is the idea,” Dr. Bauroth said.
There have been concerns expressed by voters on how this will affect the outcome of their top choice candidate.
“When you cast a vote for multiple candidates they all get the same amount of support, so if you like one of the candidates much more than the other ones, well you are giving them support, it is getting washed out by the other people who get the same vote as well,” Dr. Bauroth said.
Dr. Bauroth said he believes a ward system is a much better system in terms of representation for a city of Fargo’s size with different candidates representing different areas of Fargo in separate elections.