Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Some History of the Weighted Vote

In 1964, a decision by the U. S. Supreme Court in Reynolds v. Sims established the "one man, one vote" principle. "One man, one vote" requires that state legislative districts must be approximately equal in size, the goal being to ensure that every citizen has equal representation in an elected legislative body.

Ten years later, Hudson started considering how it could comply with the Supreme Court's "one man, one vote" edict. Hudson then operated on the principle of one ward, one vote--or rather one ward, two votes, since there were then as now two aldermen from each ward. On his second day in office, Mayor Samuel T. Wheeler identified "reapportioning voting districts" as one of the primary goals of his administration. The following is quoted from the Register-Star for January 2, 1974:
[Wheeler] recommended immediate steps to be taken to comply with the Supreme Court's one-man one-vote edict of which the city has been in violation for years. The voting strength among the five election wards, Wheeler said, was "totally out of proportion."

He asked that either a weighted voting system or a realignment of the present five ward boundaries be considered, and suggested the advice of the County Board of Supervisors could be advantageous. The county board last year adopted a weighted system that assigned voting weights to each supervisor on the basis of population in his town or city ward. 
Over the next five months, it seems the City decided to pursue the weighted vote solution rather than redrawing the ward boundaries. On May 29, 1974, Common Council President Donald F. Maloy received a letter from L. Papayanopoulos, the reapportionment consultant the City still turns to every decade to recalculate the weighted vote. The letter stated in part: "Weighted voting can indeed be implemented in Hudson City. The traditional weighted voting analysis used in reapportioning many New York counties (including Columbia, 1972) is usually applied under circumstances of singular representation. Your present form of local representation deviates from this norm since two councilmen are elected from each ward. This necessitates a modification of the traditional method of analysis." Papayanopoulos offered to develop several different types of reapportionment plans "in order to arrive at [one] which is least likely to be challenged."

Papayanopoulos must have come up with a satisfactory plan because in September 1975, the Common Council enacted Local Law No. 4 for 1975 "To Amend the Hudson City Charter in Relation to the Apportionment of Votes by Members of the Common Council." The law states in part: "The apportionment of the voting strength of the members of the Common Council shall be determined by the 1970 federal census in the City of Hudson until the next decennial federal census, in which event the voting strength shall by changed, if necessary, to conform to such decennial federal census."

This chart shows how the voting strength of members of the Common Council has changed--or hasn't--over the past four decades.


The weighted votes, as they were established in 1975, remained unchanged until the 2000 census. As a result of that census, the votes of some aldermen gained strength, the votes of others lost strength. The big winners were the Third Ward aldermen, whose votes were strengthened by 46 votes each. The Second Ward aldermen's votes were strengthened by 24 votes, and the Common Council President gained 8 votes. The losers were the aldermen representing the Fourth Ward (dropping 36 votes), the First Ward (dropping 28), and the Fifth Ward (dropping 12). 

Since the weighted vote has introduced in 1975, the disparity in the strength of aldermen's votes has increased. For example, in 1975 the strength of the least powerful vote (First Ward) was 42 percent that of the most powerful vote (Fifth Ward). Today the strength of the least powerful vote (First and Fourth wards) is just 33 percent of the most powerful vote (Fifth Ward). It is not yet known what the impact of the 2010 census will be on the weighted vote, but it's reasonable to expect that the new census data will create even greater disparity. It's time to reconsider the road not taken in 1975: redrawing the election districts so that Hudson operates on the principle of "one district, one vote" and achieves the goal of "one person, one vote."    

Thanks to City Clerk Tracy Delaney for her invaluable assistance in researching this post.   

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