Local Control Debate
BISMARCK – The North Dakota State Senate failed Wednesday to override the governor’s veto on a bill that would have banned rank and approval choice voting in the state.
House Bill 1273 would have prohibited political subdivisions from using a rank choice voting system, where voters rank candidates, and approval choice voting, where voters check one or more candidates that they like. Fargo currently uses approval choice voting. Rank choice voting is not currently in place anywhere in North Dakota.
The bill also voids any county, city, or any other political subdivision ordinance that contradicts the bill, regardless if the political subdivision has a home rule charter. Home rule charters can be defined as a local constitution where each political subdivision may set up its own structure of government.
Sen. Judy Lee, R-Dis. 13, West Fargo, said in 2018 Fargo’s city commission voted down approval voting, but the citizens voted for it through an initiated ballot ordinance by a 63.52% vote.
“The reason for support was that there were many candidates running for city offices and as a result there were people receiving small percentages of the vote who were elected to serve,” said Lee. “The alternatives would have been run-off elections which takes time and are costly. House Bill 1273 is in direct conflict with the concept of local control. Cities and counties whose voters have chosen to have home rule charters have the ability to make their own decisions about the various issues which need to be addressed in their local areas.”
Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Dis. 19, Edinburg, said three other states, including South Dakota, have passed similar bills where their governors signed them. She also read from article seven, section six of the North Dakota Constitution which gives the legislative assembly the authority to establish home rule charters. The section also prohibits home-rule charters from operating in counties and cities unless the majority of their voters pass it.
“Further, a North Dakota Supreme Court ruling, and I quote, cities are creatures of statute and possess those powers and authorities granted by statute or necessarily implied from an expressed statutory grant,” said Myrdal. “In other words, home rule governments are given authority if proper conditions are met to supersede conflicting state laws or enact laws where no state law exists, unless specifically prohibited from doing so. So, it is in our full authority as a legislative body through House Bill 1273 to specifically prohibit the implementation of rank and approval choice voting.”
Myrdal added that it would be better to have uniformity in voting systems across the state.
Sen Sean Cleary, R-Dis. 35, Bismarck, said he personally would not vote for approval choice voting if it were on the ballot in his county.
“But it really doesn’t sit right with me that a pretty clear majority of residents in a city, after a long debate, chose that this is how they want to govern their local elections, and that we come along and say that we know better than them,” said Cleary. “While the state certainly does have an interest in how these local ordinances are adopted, I will say in our foundational document, there’s a pretty clear priority on local self-government and the value of home rule on matters of local importance.”
The bill failed by a vote of 28 yeas to 19 nays, needing 32 yeas to override the governor’s veto.