A unanimous three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld San Francisco’s ranked-choice voting system—referring to the author of beloved children’s classics.
In writing the 35-page opinion (PDF), Judge Marsha Berzon alluded to Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, “better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll,” author of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass.”
Dodgson was also a mathematician who developed alternatives to simple majority voting. Judge Berzon notes that Dodgson preferred his own election systems to the one commonly used at the time, even as he recognized his creations were imperfect, too:
“Over a century later, Dodgson’s wish remains unfulfilled. No perfect election system has been devised. Nonetheless,some governmental entities continue to experiment with innovative methods for electing candidates. At issue here is one such system, used by San Francisco for the election of certain city officials.”
Plaintiffs, including a losing supervisorial candidate in District 4, complained that San Francisco’s system—which allows voters to choose three candidates—disenfranches voters whose top three choices fail to make the final two.
The court agreed with a federal District Court ruling that while San Francisco’s ranked-choice voting system may not be perfect, it is far from unconstitutional.
The decision confirms what most expected—that San Francisco’s November mayoral election will be a real free-for-all with more than a dozen candidates. Under ranked-choice voting it seems nothing is certain, and winning is about getting enough voters to make you their second or third choice. Just ask Don Perata, erstwhile Sacramento power broker—and losing mayoral candidate in last year’s ranked-choice election in Oakland.
9th Circuit Opinion: Dudum v. Arntz