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New America Foundation Files Amicus Brief in San Francisco Ranked Choice Voting Lawsuit

Election Experts Say Lawsuit is "Sour Grapes"
Published:   March 29, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO--In recently filed court papers, the New America Foundation describes the case against San Francisco's Ranked Choice Voting system as a "sour grapes" lawsuit filed by a perennial losing candidate.

The New America Foundation's Political Reform Program, one of the country's foremost resources for alternative voting methods, filed a Friend of the Court (Amicus Curiae) brief in the case, Dudum v Arntz, which will be heard Thursday, April 1, 2010, at 1:30 pm, before Judge Richard Seeborg in Federal District Court in San Francisco.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Ron Dudum, has mounted two unsuccessful campaigns for San Francisco Supervisor: in 2002, before Ranked Choice Voting was used and in 2006 when RCV was used.

"The plaintiffs claim they are bringing this lawsuit on behalf of the public interest. In reality, they think that going back to the old, expensive way of electing candidates will help their cause," said Gautam Dutta, Deputy Director of the Political Reform Program and the attorney who filed the brief for New America. "Ron Dudum, however, appears incapable of winning election under either voting method."

The lawsuit claims that San Francisco's Ranked Choice Voting system is unconstitutional because its current voting equipment does not allow voters to rank more than three choices. In June, however, the Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of Minneapolis' Ranked Choice Voting method which also allows voters to rank up to three choices. (Minnesota Voters Alliance v. City of Minneapolis.) Furthermore, a virtually identical lawsuit, McSweeney v. City of Cambridge, was rejected by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 1996. "Clearly, the case law weighs heavily in favor of Ranked Choice Voting," said Blair Bobier, a lawyer with the Political Reform Program.

San Francisco State University Professor Emeritus Richard DeLeon, in a Declaration filed in support of New America's Amicus Brief, called the lawsuit "frivolous" and said that the research on which plaintiffs build their case "is based on a superficial analysis of inadequate and incomplete data leading to conclusions that are highly questionable, misleading, and untrustworthy."

In a recent column, New York Times writer Thomas Friedman advocated the use of Ranked Choice Voting as a way to promote political innovation at the national level and address what Friedman calls a broken system of "hyperpartisanship."

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