Fargo City Commission Debates Election Reform

Deputy Mayor and City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn had some choice words for the rest of the Fargo City Commission as they debated city election reforms suggested by a special task force Monday, Oct. 23.

“We’ve got a lot of important things going on in this city, and this ain’t one of them,” Piepkorn said.

The task force recommended the number of city commissioners be raised from five to seven and to hold a primary election for city offices. If passed, neither of these provisions would affect elections until 2020, according to City Commissioner Tony Gehrig.

If this primary general election were in place for the previous election, only four candidates for city commission would have been on the ballot instead of the original 11.

“I think folks are very passionate about this issue of reform and they won’t give up,” City Commissioner John Strand said. Strand also suggested that they host further public engagements to measure public opinion on voter reform.

The Fargo City Commission held two public meetings about these issues over the spring, and nobody showed up, according to City Commissioner Tony Grindberg.

A similar primary system was in place until 2000.

In 1986, the city went to a run-off system with about 7,000 people voting for it. Fourteen years later, more than 22,000 voted against the system.

“One of the things we saw (in the previous system) was voter fatigue,” City Auditor Steve Sprague said. There was a county election in April, followed by a city election in May and a primary in June. Vote totals dropped in each election.

“The voter fatigue thing is legitimate,” Piepkorn said. Running for nearly a year in the suggested system would be a huge commitment. Although they don’t spend a lot of money, Piepkorn said, they’d be spending even more of their own time.

Besides voter fatigue and candidates’ time, another issue the reform presents is candidates must get a majority plus one vote to win. “I think we need to be careful about how we change the system,” Gehrig said.

“It’s difficult to get a 50 percent mandate unless you’re extremely popular,” Mayor Tim Mahoney said. “Carson Wentz could win, but the rest of us would have trouble.”

The commission moved that representatives of the special task force will hold one more public meeting to “give folks the chance to ask questions and learn more” about the revisions to city election reform. The date of this meeting has not been determined yet.

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