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Seeking election reform, Fargo city leaders will study runoff elections, ward system

July 06,2016 13:13

Over the past decade, there have been six regular city elections. In four of those elections, there were only four candidates running for the two commission seats available and winners typically got more than 25 percent of the vote. In the other two ...and more »



By Tu-Uyen Tran
on Jul 5, 2016 at 9:09 p.m.

Bob Carter, left, and Gary Tougas vote at the Fargodome in north Fargo on June 14, 2016. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo EditorFARGO — After a city election with 11 candidates and two winners who got significantly less than a majority vote, city commissioners have agreed to study changes that could dramatically change future elections.Everything is on the table, including runoff elections and changing to a ward system, commissioners decided in their first meeting as a new commission Tuesday, July 5."City commissioners should have a majority vote of the voters of Fargo," said Tony Grindberg, one of the new commissioners.In his campaign, he'd pushed for such a study fearing that the crowded field would not give winners much of a mandate. In fact, as the top vote getter in the June election, he managed only 16 percent. The other winner, John Strand, had 15 percent.Mayor Tim Mahoney said Grindberg wasn't alone in wanting to look at changes. He said all the commissioners wanted to do that.Over the past decade, there have been six regular city elections. In four of those elections, there were only four candidates running for the two commission seats available and winners typically got more than 25 percent of the vote. In the other two, three of the winners didn't manage 25 percent.In the 2015 special election, there were six candidates vying for one seat and the winner, Tony Gehrig, got 22 percent.To fix the problem of winners not having a majority, commissioners mentioned several possibilities.The most obvious was holding runoff elections, which the city had done before reforms in 2000. Voters would go to the polls in April and if no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote, the top vote getters would go to a runoff election in May.Commissioner Gehrig pointed out that the old system was a hassle and voter turnout dropped significantly between the first and the second election.Another possibility is changing to a ward system. Each commissioner now represents the entire city. Under a ward system, each would represent one ward or district within the city, reducing the likelihood that there will be more than a few candidates in each race.Strand mentioned a ranked choice voting system in which voters can rank their candidates by preference. This reduces the likelihood of split votes where candidates who are alike end up taking votes from each other and leaving the less popular candidate the winner.Commissioners will form a task force made up of city officials, former commissioners and members of the public to study the issue as well as others related to elections.At Gehrig's request, it will also study adding new commissioners to the five-member body, changing term limits and having a full-time mayor.Explore related topics:fargoGovernmentElection

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