Commentary & Analysis

Fargo’s First Approval Voting Election: Results and Voter Experience

June 9th, 2020 was a historic day—it was the day of the first approval voting election in US history! The people of Fargo, ND were empowered to have their voices heard and vote for ALL the candidates for City Commission that they approved of. This reform was enacted in 2018 by citizens eager to reduce vote-splitting in their elections and elect representatives with broad support from voters.

So, did Fargo’s first approval voting election work? 

The official results suggest that, yes, approval voting helped ensure that winners had broad support, rather than winning with fractions of the vote. The two winning candidates—John Strand and Arlette Preston—received votes on 55% and 53% of ballots respectively.

Fargo's first approval voting election results bar graph - city commissioner results. It shows the following percentage: Aboah (16%), Shaffer (17%), Rymph (18%), Krystosek (20%), Grindberg (49%), Preston (53%), and Strand (53%).
Graphic created by Jed Limke of Reform Fargo

According to Reform Fargo, the results also suggest that voters approved on average 2.3 candidates per ballot. In contrast, voters only approved 1.8 candidates per ballot in 2018 during their two-winner plurality at-large election. So, voters were ready and willing to use their power to approve of multiple candidates under approval voting!

On its face, that extra average of just half a vote per ballot may not seem like a lot. But boy does it matter! The second and third place candidates were so close that vote splitting could have easily been a factor otherwise. Fargo also got to see both winners push over the 50% approval threshold—unheard of in previous Commission elections. Finally, think of all the voters who got to support candidates they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise for fear of wasting their vote.

What Did Fargo Voters Think of their first Approval Voting Election?

So we know that approval voting had an effect on the election results. But how did voters feel about their experience? We conducted polling to see how Fargo voters felt about their first time using approval voting.

Voters felt that approval voting was easy to use, they liked using it, and they felt comfortable with it.

  • 71% said that approval voting was easy.
  • 62% said that overall, they liked approval voting 
  • 62% said they were comfortable with approval voting

Voters were better able to express their preferences.

  • 69% said they felt they could vote for their favorite candidate without worrying about electability. That includes:
    • 54% of Republicans 
    • 70% of Independents
    • 81% of Democrats
  • 59% said they felt they could vote for their favorite candidate(s), without worrying that they might “spoil” the election for someone else
  • 30% said they considered more candidates than they would have normally

Voters felt that approval voting could encourage more people to vote.

  • 54% said they believed that more people might be interested in voting in general if they could use approval voting

Although voters liked approval voting, they aren’t very likely to spread the word about it—yet.

  • 42% said they would be likely to tell others about approval voting

We’re so proud of Fargo’s citizens for becoming the first voters in the US to use approval voting. They’ve taken a huge step toward strengthening democracy in their city, and they’ve proven that real change is possible. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for the people of Fargo!

This poll was conducted by The Center for Election Science and Change Research. We surveyed 505 likely voters in Fargo between June 3-8. Post-stratification weighting was done on gender, age range, ethnicity, education, and 2016 votes. Weights were then adjusted based on respondents’ self-stated likelihood of voting.