Saturday, October 3, 2015

Contemplating a Solution to the Weighted Vote

Earlier this week, John Mason reported in the Register-Star what Gossips had reported the week before: the Common Council at its October meetings will be considering a resolution having to do with the weighted vote. If the resolution passes, this question will be posed to voters in a referendum on the ballot in November 2016:
Shall the Common Council of the City of Hudson amend the City Charter to replace the current ward method of weighted voting utilized by the City with voting districts of equal population such that every resident of the City of Hudson is equally represented on the City Council and the County Board of Supervisors?
The referendum question proposes that the current five wards, which are static, geographic boundaries, be replaced with five voting districts of equal population, whose boundaries would change to reflect population changes with every decennial census.


According to the plan proposed by Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), chair of the Legal Committee, the configuration of the five equipopulos districts would be determined by a "Redistricting Commission," which will tasked with coming up with a proposal within a year's time. It's hard to imagine that such a proposal could be dramatically different from the scheme that was worked out by attorney and Hudson resident Stephen Dunn, using 2010 census data to adjust the traditional ward boundaries to achieve five districts of equal population.


What is most striking about Dunn's scheme is that the First and Fourth wards, now the weakest in the weighted vote, become the two largest wards geographically, but it stands to reason. These two wards have the lowest population density hence their geographic area must expand.

In preparation for writing his article about the resolution that will come before the Common Council in October, Mason interviewed all the usual suspects, including former mayor and now Fifth Ward supervisor Rick Scalera. Scalera had his own scheme for remedying the problem: create three voting districts while preserving the traditional ward boundaries by "combining the 1st and 3rd wards and the 2nd and 4th wards, and leaving the 5th ward as it is." According to Scalera, this would have the added benefit of cutting down on the cost of government, "as it would reduce the number of aldermen to six." Interesting idea--and an appealing one--but would it eliminate the need for a weighted vote to achieve the constitutional standard of one man, one vote? Not likely.


Using the data from the 2010 census, the combined population of the First (593) and Third (1,076) wards is 1,669; the combined population of the Second (1,477) and Fourth (716) wards is 2,193; and the population of the Fifth Ward is 2,541. 1,669, 2,193, 2,541--hardly equal. The votes of the six aldermen would still have to be weighted in order to achieve the constitutional standard. 

To get an idea of what the weighted vote of the three voting districts proposed by Scalera might look like, let's compare the current weighted votes. The combined weighted votes of the First Ward aldermen (95 x 2 = 190) and the Third Ward aldermen (180 x 2 = 360) total 550. The combined weighted votes of the Second Ward aldermen (185 x 2 = 370) and the Fourth Ward aldermen (95 x 2 = 190) total 660. The votes of the two Fifth Ward aldermen (364 x 2 = 728) total 728. Although the situation would not be as dramatically inequitable as things are now, the Fifth Ward would still come out ahead: 550, 660, 728.
COPYRIGHT 2015 CAROLE OSTERINK

13 comments:

  1. As usual, Hudson politicos get ahead of themselves -- and the facts. Instead of simply passing a resolution to replace weighted voting with a system of equal population voting -- and setting up a commission to study how best to do that -- we are already arguing about the specifics. It reminds of the Common Council vote to tear down the Furgary shacks before deciding whether they were historic or posed environmental hazards! Oy! So, why can't the Council decide to establish a study group to research options to the weighted vote, have public meetings to discuss the question, then -- six months from now! -- come back with some alternatives to the current weighted vote system. Can't we do something right for a change?

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    1. Public participation in Hudson ...

      Do you hear yourself?!

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  2. Assuming one adopted the Scalera scheme, with 3 wards and weighted voting, the legal problem Constitutionally, is that Ward 5 and ward 2 plus 4 would have more than a third of the vote, while ward 1 plus 3 has less than a third of the wighted vote. So when it comes to sustaining or overriding a mayorial veto, Ward 1 plus 3 might as well stay home. They will never make a difference. That dog will not hunt Constitutionally. This fact pattern is considerably more egregious than the weighted critical vote voting power mathematics in play with 5 wards, where we are talking about statistical discrepancies. Here, it's a total freeze out, something a Court will more easily understand. In my opinion, from a legal standpoint, the Scalera proposal even with weighted voting is almost certainly DOA, and to about a 95% certainty, illegal. For it to fly, a court would have to both 1) tolerate statistical discrepancies in voting power, and 2) assume that the two alderpersons from each of the three wards vote randomly vis a vis each other. That is highly unlikely to be the case.

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    1. If one factors in the vote of the common council president, and gives him 1/7 of the voting power (more than about the 1/10 that the CC President has now, the matrix chart of voting power or critical swing votes is below. Ward 5 makes the difference between getting a two thirds vote to override or not, twice as often as the two other wards or the CC President. 40% of the time the 5th ward has the critical vote, while the CC President and the other two wards cast the critical vote 20% of the time. Is that fair? What do you think a court will find on that one?

      I'm not sure how to post images here, so this might not work.

      http://i1099.photobucket.com/albums/g392/swdunn1/Screen%20Shot%202015-10-04%20at%201.44.11%20PM_zpsrn57xw9a.png

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  3. And I maintain that what we name things is important. Calling the new municipal subdivisions "voting districts" is going to be too easily confused with election districts, which are legal entities within election law. To wit, the above reference to "five election districts of equal population."

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  4. I hate to sound like a broken record, but what's the rush to solve ward problem? Why can't we just decide, as the proposed resolution states, to create "voting districts of equal population" and get on with the process of studying (I know that's a hard concept in Hudson) how best to do it.

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  5. no weighed voting !! lets join the rest of America -- one man one vote, no sneaky magical weighted voting.

    weighted voting is anti american, masquerading as being fair. it just isnt.

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  6. MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over) alert: I just posted this comment on that Register Star article:

    Within municipal boundaries (such as wards, which are specifically addressed in election law), yes, "the county Board of Elections has jurisdiction over where people vote." Within municipal boundaries such as wards, the Board of Elections redraws election-district lines any time an election district is found to contain too many or too few registered voters (the upper limit per election district according to election law is 1,150 voters), not every 10 years. (To that point, I have spoken with Don Moore, who acknowledges that he mis-spoke when he used the term election district, rather than voting district.) Election law does not address "voting districts," but it would seem that such a district, being a municipal boundary, would be treated, for voting purposes, the same as a ward. Note that the 5th Ward, due to its numbers of registered voters, has two election districts. The 3rd Ward formerly had two, but was consolidated to one when its registered-voter numbers declined.

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  7. Thanks, Virginia, we need more MEGO's! But could you answer the question of whether the resolution as stated at the top this post is technically accurate or not? Is there something wrong with the words "replace the current ward method of weighted voting utilized by the City with voting districts of equal population"? Can the Council pass that resolution -- and put the question to voters -- without violating some technical portion of election law? Thanks.

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  8. Peter, while that's a good question, I don't think I can answer it. Election law deals with the intra-municipal bounded areas that are called wards, and nothing else. If the City were to adopt some other kind of bounded area, or means of splitting its two square miles into discrete parts, I'm not sure where or how that geographical entity and election law would intersect. The best I can do now is to invoke my usual question: how have other municipalities addressed this problem? I understand that Hudson is currently unique in this regard. But surely at some point in the past (perhaps the long-past past) another city had to address this same question. I would urge, however, that the term "district"--and especially "voting district"--not be employed, because it invites confusion with election law's "election district."

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  9. This ward boundary issue has been an interesting one for years. There has been a different version and votes taken, yet, there has never been a successful change made.

    I’m not sure about the accuracy of the outlined ward numbers, I don’t believe the 4th ward numbers are as stated, at least when it comes to how the weighted vote calculations were done. Nevertheless, let’s stick with the 3 ward scenario which was first posed by Alderman Miah and sent out by email. Aldermen Miah’s suggestion of 3 wards was similar to that of Supervisor Scalera except for a few important points. It is true, when I sat with Alderman Miah, he noticed that to create 3 wards you couldn’t simply combine the 1st and 3rd, 2nd and 4th wards, a population adjustment would be needed to bring each new ward to within a 5% variance. His first suggestion was to leave the 4th as it is including crosswinds, include Clinton, Washington, Prospect and the north side of State up to 6th St. to what would become a new ward. Then add the South side of State, Columbia and Warren st. to the new combined 1st and 3rd ward, making any other slight population adjustments as warranted. With the deductions from the 5th, the rest of the ward would be left whole, with less than a 5% variation between the new 3 wards. That would allow for 6 Aldermen, 2 per ward, one man one vote or weighted vote, whichever law allows, 3 Supervisors, still under the County weighted vote system.

    Just for clarification, this is what Alderman Miah proposed and in my opinion can easily be done. Not only that, Alderman Miah pointed out, with the new ward structure, the demographic integrity of the current wards can be maintained, which is also of great importance. I may have slightly gotten some of the wording wrong, but this is the general proposal Alderman Miah sent out months ago. I agree with Alderman Miah’s proposal, there would be little pain, in fact there would be a financial gain to the City by shrinking its Council, streamlining its elected body, bringing things more in line with the current population. This is a great idea by Alderman Miah, I’m onboard with this idea and would love to be on any commission tasked with putting this proposal together.

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  10. These are all questions and proposals worthy of consideration. So can't we just get on with the task of asking voters if the City should study an alternative to weighted voting so that we can ask these questions and consider these proposals in a rational and considered way? We probably don't even need a Citywide vote to establish a commission to study the thing. Why can't the Council simply establish such a commission. I disagree with Billy Hughes and Alderman Miah that we should decrease the number of wards, but it would be great to have the two of them lead a commission to study the thing. --peter m

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