Wednesday, November 18, 2015

No Equity for Hudson

On October 20, a resolution to begin the process of correcting Hudson's very likely unconstitutional system of weighted voting was passed by the Common Council with 1,104 affirmative votes. On October 23, the resolution was vetoed by Mayor William Hallenbeck. Last night, a resolution to override the mayor's veto came before the Common Council. Overriding a mayoral veto requires a two-thirds majority: 1,350 affirmative votes. The resolution received only 1,089 affirmative votes.

Voting to override the veto were Don Moore (Council president, 199 votes), Bart Delaney (Fifth Ward, 352 votes), John Friedman (Third Ward, 161 votes), Henry Haddad (Third Ward, 161 votes), Nick Haddad (First Ward, 108 votes), and Rick Rector (First Ward, 108 votes).

Voting against the override were Robert "Doc" Donahue (Fifth Ward, 352 votes), Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward, 187 votes), Alexis Keith (Fourth Ward, 105 votes), and Abdus Miah (Second Ward, 187 votes). Ohrine Stewart (Fourth Ward) was absent.

Commenting on the outcome, Moore observed, "It will serve us well in the court."


  1. It's inconceivable that anyone who supports the Get Out the Vote effort would oppose an idea to let voters have a say in a one-man-one-vote proposal. The two positions are at cross purposes; they cancel each other out.

    Immediately before the vote, someone made an apt reference to Lyndon B. Johnson, which I took to mean the Voting Rights Act of August 1965.

    In March 1965, in Selma, Alabama, after days of State-sponsored violence against minorities whose principal grievance concerned voting rights, President Johnson arranged for the safe passage of a march which was led by Martin Luther King, Jr. The rest is history.

    And what slogan did the SNCC choose for the Selma demonstrations? "One man, One Vote."

    Last night, four months after the 50th anniversary of an Act which ended the institutionalized underrepresentation of minorities, it was disheartening (to put it mildly) to hear those Aldermen who invariably identify as racial minorities stand in unison against the central thesis of the Voting Rights Act.

    How can this be?! Is it ignorance about history? That would be pretty ironic.

    Perhaps it's about seeking advantages which apply in this situation only? But that would be the textbook definition of cynical.

    Can someone please offer some other explanation for last night's vote, other than sheer ignorance about history or unprincipled opportunism.

  2. Tim makes good points. The only explanation for what you saw last night was fear: fear that as incumbents they'd lose that advantage in newly-drawn districts. Fear that as a result they'd lose their seat and whatever comes with it. How else to explain those among the most disenfranchised by the weighted voting system (the 2nd and 4th Wards) voting in lock step to preserve a system that was crafted, in the first instance, to weaken their very votes.

  3. Yes, a combination of ignorant AND self-interested was the third possibility.

  4. It seems self serving. Sadly not ignorant, they know what they are doing

  5. It is nonsense that weighted voting violates one man, one vote.

    It is true that not basing voting weights on the actual population, as is the case in Hudson, violates one man, one vote.

    1. Now Jim, you know that the legalities of weighted voting as a Constitutional matter are far more complex than you statement including the word "nonsense" suggests. Is weighted voting justifiable Constitutionally at all for jurisdictions with no internal political subdivisions, such as cities, as opposed to counties, which do have such subdivisions? Is it Constitutional if the voting power weights vary from the population weights in excess of 5%, and can one assume that alderpersons from the same ward elected at the same time, vote randomly on the Common Council vis a vis each other? My opinion is that the weighted voting scheme is most probably Unconstitutional. In any event, based on current state and local statutes, the lines as drawn are illegal before even reaching the Constitutional issue, but I digress.

      But yes, of course, the miscount of the actual populations of the wards, upon which miscount the voting weights were assigned, and folks voting in the wrong wards based on an erroneous map, and in the case of the Crosswinds voters, based on nothing at all, are illegal on their face.

    2. Steve,

      The City of Hudson does not need to justify its use of weighted voting based on ward boundaries established in the 19th Century.

      The City of Hudson could not possibly justify its current weights, which are not based on a rational estimate of the ward populations.

      "Voting Power" is quite possibly a bogus concept. Any change away from simple population-based weights violates a fundamental principle of one man, one vote - that representatives who represent a majority of the population should be a majority of the legislature. Please re-read 'Reynolds v Sims' and 'Pokorny v Bd. if Supr. Chenango' 59 Misc.2d 929 (1969).

      We agree that the apportionment plan of Columbia County violates state law, by electing supervisors from areas within Hudson that have widely differing population (see Slater v. Bd. of Supervisors 69 Misc.2d 842 (1972)). I don't know if the city has any liability. Columbia County has the authority, independently of the City of Hudson, to configure its legislative body.

      The basis of the SCOTUS decisions outlawing multi-member districts is that the representatives will act in concert. But multi-member districts are only unconstitutional if they prevent an identifiable minority from achieving representation. Good luck on showing that a racial minority in Ward 2 has representation, but a political minority in Ward 5 does not.

      But if the two aldermen from a ward do vote together, it does not make sense to calculate voting power based on them voting independently. Voting power is the power of the _voter_ as expressed through their representatives. How possibly could a voter have decisive power if Alderman Tweedledee votes one way, and Alderman Tweedledum votes the opposite way.

      Both your aldermen opposed the current resolution. Would you really try to convince exactly one to switch their vote? If you had convinced Miah and Garriga to favor the motion would you suddenly be disenfranchised?

      But consider if there were equal-population wards with two aldermen, as proposed by the resolution. What difference would the Council President make? Aldermen from 3 wards would always produce a 6:4 majority. It doesn't matter whether the president were to make it 7:4 or 6:5.

      Since that is the case, it would be better to switch to 7 or 9 single-member districts, and eliminate the separate election of a council president, or to switch to a system where aldermen's voting weights were based on the votes that they received.

    3. " 'Voting Power' is quite possibly a bogus concept. Any change away from simple population-based weights violates a fundamental principle of one man, one vote - that representatives who represent a majority of the population should be a majority of the legislature. Please re-read 'Reynolds v Sims' and 'Pokorny v Bd. if Supr. Chenango' 59 Misc.2d 929 (1969)."

      That's why the deviations from population for both weighted vote amounts and voting power need to be less than the 5% that the Courts have set as the maximum permissible. Under the case law, close is good enough, at least where there is some rationale for a deviation - such as voting districts following jurisdictional lines of one sort or another. Whether any rationale exists however from near equal population districts in the city of Hudson without any internal jurisdictional lines is another question. But assuming the Courts find one, based on the above constraints, to make it all work, the wards would either need to have reasonably close populations, and/or the common council president would need to have a considerably larger chunk of the voting pie.

    4. In Hudson, I think we'd be wise to anticipate a general desire to continue with voting districts.

      In large part - though not in every instance - our jurisdictional Ward lines are already expressions of the generally shared interests and values of discrete communities.

      Right or wrong, they would be very difficult to eradicate.

    5. @Steve,

      The only federal standard is that the deviation between voting weights and population be within a 10% range. In a weighted voting system this is easy to achieve since the weights may be made identical to the populations, in which case the deviation range is 0%.

      But a deliberate deviation of voting weights away from population that has the effect of changing the results of a vote in the representative body, has the mathematically necessary result of ensuring that some combinations of those who represent a majority of the population, do not represent a majority of the body.

      Under SCOTUS decisions, the burden is on the city or state to justify a deviation range greater than 10%. Rockland County at the time of 'Abate v Mundt' had a deviation range of about 12%, but they were able to meet the that burden based on the relationship between towns and county government.

      Rockland County was not able to meet that burden when the deviation range grew to be over 20%, and the court found that the county-town relationship had weakened in Rockland County.

      When the deviation is less than 10%, the burden shifts to those challenging the apportionment.

      We will see next month in the Mathismander case whether it is OK to overpopulate Republican-leaning districts, and underpopulate Democratic-leaning districts, so long as you stay within the 10% standard.

      But a challenge to the weighted voting plan for Columbia County could succeed, based on the precedent of 'Pokorny'.

  6. But nobody said that weighted voting, in itself, violates "one man, one vote." So what's the purpose of this straw man argument when you go on to acknowledge that the principle is violated in Hudson?

    If you're somehow alluding to other ways in which we might accomplish a legal voting system here - and in this the mayor was correct, that there are other ways - then the most important question the aldermen faced on Tuesday was whether or not a resolution to put the question to the electorate in a year's time would preclude these other means of accomplishing a legal outcome.

    Unfortunately, those who voted to sustain the mayor's veto evidently put little thought into the matter.

    But when we consider Selma, Alabama, in 1965, I suppose some of these aldermen may now feel ashamed of their Tuesday vote. If they were honest and wise people, they'd address the apparent historical contradiction for the rest of us who are scratching our heads.

    I think they'd discover that people are willing to forgive their blunder if these aldermen would show that, in retrospect, they understand that their action has no better parallel than the historical disenfranchisement of racial and gender minorities.

    1. In 1964, the SCOTUS in 'Reynolds v Sims' ruled that the Alabama legislature was malapportioned - representation was not weighted based on population. It therefore violated the principle of one man, one vote.

      The marchers in Selma in 1965 could rightly point out that even though the Alabama legislature had been reapportioned on the basis of 'one man, one vote', that blacks were largely denied that one vote.

      AFAIK, blacks in Hudson are not barred from voting. New York stopped using literacy tests half a century ago. Slavery was abolished 188 years ago.

      The voters of Ward 2 and Ward 4 are injured, not by the use of weighted voting, but because the current voting weights are not calculated based on the actual population.

      It is incredible that the City of Hudson has not corrected the voting weights. It is bizarre that the motion to abolish weighted voting was passed using the invalid voting weights.

    2. Years ago I remarked (in a number of Gossips threads) that any correction of Hudson's weighted system that depended on the actions of the Common Council would necessarily derive from the malapportioned system itself. The 5th Ward's illegitimate power would likely be required for a Resolution through which it would surrender that power.

      For years I've argued (also in these threads) that a hybrid system may be available for those who wished to hold onto the weighted vote for sentimental reasons. (That was one explanation floated several years ago, which was of no personal to me.) Cortland County reportedly offers an example of such a hybrid, which may or may not be available to a city.

      But you seem determined to misunderstand my comments, first by assuming that someone has claimed that "weighted voting violates one man, one vote" (and whom we may further surmise is opposed, as a matter of principle, to any and all weighted voting), and that an analogy which offers a serviceable irony in the circumstances - the Selma slogan of "one man, one vote" - is to be taken as a literal comparison.

      My mention of "institutionalized underrepresentation" was a reference to the ongoing culture of Jim Crow and "Plessy" which, with the assistance of the police state, continued the de facto disenfranchisement of minorities despite the decision in Reynolds v. Sims. As you put it, "blacks were [still] largely denied that one vote."

      But we've taken your rabbit hole far enough.

      I'll wager that the analogy - and the irony - is evident enough to other readers.

  7. Cortland County has a fake weighted-voting system, it has 17 legislative districts, four consisting of combinations of smaller towns, 7 districts in the city of Cortland, 3 in the town of Cortland, 3 in the town of Homer (one of which is shared with two other towns).

    Each legislator has a voting weight equal to the population that they represent. But the districts are so similar in population, that the voting weights don't matter.

    Any combination of 9 legislators will have a majority of the weighted vote, just as 9/17 is a majority under an unweighted system. No combination of 5 legislators would be able to block a 2/3 resolution, just as they could not under an unweighted system.

    Cortland County could achieve the same result by giving each legislator one vote, but adjusting the size of their parking space or name plate in proportion to the population they represent.

    And yet, there is a 22% variation among the districts in Cortland County, over twice what is commonly considered to compliant with the principal of "one man, one vote".

    1. Thank you for that clarification concerning my specific question about Cortland County. I've been wanting to discuss that with someone for years, so I'll think carefully on what you've written.

      But even if the Cortland system is "fake," as you say, I was only ever recommending it as a sop to claims that our earlier referendum preserved the current system out of a sense of dogged traditionalism. (I meant to say above that I have no personal INTEREST in such sentimentality.)

      Interestingly, when I first floated the idea of this hybrid compromise in a Gossips thread several years ago, a noisy lawyer insisted that it was "illegal." However, Illegal and fake are different things.

      And thank you for not appearing as if you were correcting something that I hadn't actually written. That was pretty annoying.

    2. "Fake" might not be the correct term. The map is quite reasonable.

      The seven districts within the city of Cortland range in population from 2740 to 2747. The three in the town of Cortland from 2989 to 2995. The three from Homer from 2819 to 2853. The four multi-town districts have 2734, 3192, 3344, and 3379 persons. When you are combining two or three towns there are not many options.

      Had they claimed that these were equipopulous districts, the 22% overall deviation would have been observed, and if anyone took the plan to court, a judge would have ruled it unconstitutional. The law is the law, and common sense is quite another matter.

      Maybe someone realized this, and added the weighting. Maybe someone was tired of paying Dr. Papayanopoulos. Or maybe it just happened and no one noticed.

      An equivalent for Hudson would apportion 4 aldermen to Ward 5 (628 votes each); 3 aldermen to Ward 2 (489 votes each), 2 aldermen to Ward 3 (538 votes each), 1 alderman to Ward 4 (758 votes each), and 1 alderman to Ward 1 (593 votes each). The council president would be eliminated, with the 11 aldermen choosing a presiding officer from among themselves.

      This would preserve weighted voting, and the historic ward lines, and eliminate the underrepresentation of the eastern part of the city on council committees.

      Voters could be presented the options of electing the aldermen from their ward by:

      (1) At-large, as is done now.
      (2) At-large, by position.
      (3) By subdistrict.
      (4) By an alternative voting method such as (a) cumulative voting; (b) limited voting; (c) single transferable vote.

    3. For Columbia County, I would follow the system used in Saratoga County, where each town or city has one supervisor, and the largest municipalities have two supervisors. The supervisor from each town has a voting weight equal to the town's population. In the largest municipalities, the voting weight is the population divided in half between the two supervisors.

      In Columbia County, this would give two supervisors to Kinderhook and Hudson. In Kinderhook there would be a "town supervisor" and a "county supervisor". The town supervisor would continue to head the town board. The county supervisor would only serve on the county board.

      The city of Saratoga Springs has two supervisors. They also serve as non-voting members of the city council. Thus they are more like town supervisors in that they serve on both county and local bodies.

      Hudson could elect its two supervisors citywide, perhaps for a four year-term at alternating elections. Or they could divide the city in to two districts, divided around 4th or 5th street.

      This would eliminate the burden on the county of the supervisor's salaries, remove the inequity of 3 wards with a population less than that of the town of Taghkanic having a supervisor, and reduce the size of the board of supervisors.

    4. To the best of memory, the Cortland scheme was blessed by Papayanopoulos himself (circa 2012), but then I was also under the impression that Cortland's redistricting achieved something closer to parity than 22%, which is substantial.

      At any rate, your equivalent for Hudson (whether or not you endorse it personally) would appear to alleviate the need to redistrict every 10 years following each census.

      I'd also guess that at-large voting may defend against ineradicable interest blocks forming, though I can't put my finger on a reason for this hunch.

  8. We can envision a vote in a direct democracy being conducted with a giant balance scale. Each citizen would place a pebble in the Aye pan or the No pan, and whichever side had the most weight would prevail.

    But direct democracy is not always practical. Ordinary decent citizens would be uninformed, or waste too much time becoming informed. Masses would show up to vote on some issues, and there would be a lack of a quorum at other times.

    In a representative democracy, we could envision each citizen giving their representative a pebble. When a vote was conducted, the representative would take his bag of pebbles and place it on one side or other of the voting scale. It would be as if each of his constituents had done so themselves.

    Some might complain that some bags are too full, giving the representative overwhelming power, and others so empty as to be a consequential (eg Ward 5 with 2509 pebbles, and Ward 1 with 593). We might even refer to the representatives as heavyweights and lightweights. On the other hand, someone representing a more populous area may have a harder time representing them in committee. Perhaps a larger area is more diverse, and the representative can not effectively represent all the interests in the area.

    A common solution is to configure the city into equal-population districts. Instead of a bag of pebbles, each representative is given a standardized weight. Or perhaps we dispense with the scale completely, and replace it with check-marks on a clerk's tally sheet.

    But this can lead to gerrymandering or totally artificial boundaries. And you still have the problem that a representative might poorly represent the views of some constituents.

    If an area has two representatives, it is quite possible that both will represent some voters quite well, and neither will represent other voters at all.

    If there is no way to have diversity in representation, why have two aldermen from each ward? At one time, Hudson had annual elections, and the two aldermen from each ward were elected to a two-year term at alternate elections. At least there might be some variation because of the time lapse.

    But why not each voter choose their own representative? In its crudest form, each candidate would have a bag, and the voter would place his pebble in the bag of the alderman he wishes to represent him. The votes would be weighted based on popular support, eliminating the fiction that all voters of a ward support their ward's aldermen.

  9. This is food for thought:

    "At one time, Hudson had annual elections, and the two aldermen from each ward were elected to a two-year term at alternate elections."

    I didn't know that.

    But your final paragraph seems to describe the system we have. (I also wasn't aware that the views of the residents of various Wards are believed to be homogeneous with their Aldermen. Now, that would be a fiction.)

    1. Under the current system of odd-year elections, aldermen could be elected to four-year terms, with one alderman elected from each ward every two years. If this system were initiated in 2017, the elected candidate with the large number of votes could serve a 4-year term, and the runner-up a 2-year term.

      There does appear to be some voter confusion. Even in Ward 5, where there were two Democrats and two Republicans, only 91.7% of possible votes were cast. It would be interesting to know how many voters voted for two candidates, how many voted for one, and how many voted for zero.

      None of the supervisor's seats were contested, but in wards 1 and 2, more voters voted for the unopposed supervisor candidate, than the two unopposed aldermen candidates.

      The alderman portion of the ballot was pretty confusing, with two columns and instructions to vote for two. New York's con-fusion doesn't help with matters.

      That the alderman represents the views, or at least the interests, of their ward, and the voters (collectively) chose the alderman to do so is the basis for representative democracy - even it is not completely true.

      So here is how the system might work: Candidates would continue to run in wards. Voters would vote for one candidate (or perhaps to reduce the risk of overvotes, a vote for two candidates would be counted as a 1/2 vote for each),

      The top vote-getter from each ward would be elected. In addition the next five (after adjustments) would be elected.

      In determining the final five, trailing candidates would be eliminated one at a time. They would transfer their votes to another of the remaining candidates. This process would continue until 10 candidates remain.

      Each candidate would cast the votes they received in council meetings. There could also be a maximum level (say 20%) of the total vote for any alderman.

      This is easy for a voter to understand (vote for one candidate from your alderman). It would encourage challengers from 2nd and 3rd parties, since even if they are not elected, their support can be transferred to other candidates, even outside the ward.