Commentary & Analysis

Approval Voting in Fargo Will Increase Underdog Candidates’ Chance of Success

I’ve been certain for years that the only way we will see substantive change for the most marginalized among us is to vastly diversify the types of folks who represent us. Today, Fargo will make American history as the first city in the U.S. to use approval voting. This will be a huge step toward a fairer, more representative democracy for the people of our city.  The method will be applied to  Fargo City Commission, mayor, and municipal judge races. 

Folks in Fargo were upset that City Commissioners were historically winning races with a fraction of the vote. What those numbers told us is that most people actually voted for someone OTHER than the actual winner. We needed a voting method that guaranteed a more accurate measure of support.

In 2018, I served as the Education Campaign Coordinator for The Center for Election Science. In collaboration with Jed Limke of Reform Fargo, Dakota Rhodes, and the volunteer-led “Approval Voting Army,” we passed the approval voting ballot measure with over 63% of the vote. All 21 precincts in the city voted in favor of its passage.

There were more than 40 volunteers helping run the ground game to spread the word about approval voting. That was more volunteers than any of the local political parties had on the ground during those contentious midterm elections! The fact that we enlisted more volunteers for a relatively unknown reform says a lot about how urgently this reform was needed in Fargo.  

Approval voting is is highly resistant to vote-splitting. Vote splitting is a problem that arises when candidates who share a similar base run against each other in multi-candidate races. With approval voting, voters choose ALL the candidates they approve of, and the candidate with the most votes wins. Not only does this address vote-splitting among popular candidates, it greatly increases an “underdog’s” chance of garnering massive support! 

With the choose-one method that we use for nearly all elections in the US, new candidates, particularly those from under-represented groups, are at a great disadvantage. Voters can only support one candidate, so they are likely to vote for the candidate who they deem “most electable” and able to defeat the “lesser of two evils.” Too often, that means the establishment candidate with the most money and the most power wins.

Approval voting gives us a better chance of electing people that look more like the constituencies they represent. My goal is to see governing bodies that have more people of color, more people with disabilities, more women, more age diversity, and more people of different gender identities and sexual orientations. 

Once our elected officials truly represent ALL of us, including those who have historically been marginalized and underserved, we’ll be able to enact policies that truly work for all of us.