Sunday, July 16, 2017

Primary Primer

Yesterday, Gossips published the list of candidates that have filed designating petitions to run for local office. It appears from the list that the election could be as good as over after the primary, which takes place on Tuesday, September 12. In most races, Democrats are challenging Democrats--some with cross endorsements from the Republicans or third parties, some without. The Republicans have their own candidate in only two races: Martin Martinez, who is running for alderman in the Second Ward, and Robert "Doc" Donahue, running for reelection as alderman in the Fifth Ward. 

Donahue, a longtime Democrat, switched his registration to Republican in 2015. He has held the position of Fifth Ward alderman continuously since 1994. This year, the ward he seeks to represent is considerably smaller--both in geographic area and population--than it has been in the past. The maps below show the ward divisions as they had been since 1886, when the Fifth Ward was first created, and the new ward divisions created by last year's successful Fair & Equal referendum.

The new ward boundaries have the greatest impact on one candidate for alderman: Henry Haddad. Haddad is currently in his second term as Third Ward alderman, but in 2017 he is running in the First Ward, where there are three other candidates vying for the two seats. To achieve equal population in all five wards, a great deal of what had been the Third Ward is now part of the First Ward.

It is important to stress that the new boundaries create wards that are equal in total population not an number of registered voters. Notwithstanding a letter to the editor in the Register-Star claiming that Fair & Equal has not been achieved because the First Ward now has more voters than any of the other wards, that is not what is required by law. In a series of cases in the 1960s, the Supreme Court ruled that legislative districts must be of equal population. The Public Mapping Project explains it this way: 
The court held that the 14th Amendment requires "one person, one unit of representation." That is to say that every person--irregardless if they are unable to vote due to their citizenship status or voting age--is afforded equal representation. Districts are therefore drawn on equal population, not on equal votes.
In a city that has just declared itself to be "welcoming and inclusive," that distinction seems particularly significant.

Here's more information relevant to the primary on September 12. In two races, Common Council president and Fourth Ward supervisor, the Independence Party filed an OTB (Opportunity to Ballot) petition. This means, as I understand it, that members of the Independence Party can go to the polls on September 12 and write in the name of a candidate--any candidate--they want to represent their party for that office in the November election. The person receiving the most votes gets the Independence Party line on the November ballot.


  1. Were we unconstitutional before? Probably, but the question's finally moot. We're constitutional now, and that's the best insurance against a disproportionate distribution of power.

  2. We were not only constitutional before, there are many who believe that weighted voting solves a number of representational problems; primarily, not having to redraw boundary lines after every dicennial census, which is always a time-consuming, costly, and disruptive process. As Ashira Pelman Ostrow, Professor of Law at Hofstra University, points out in a 2016 Florida Law Review article (, “weighted voting satisfies the constitutional one person, one vote requirement” and “has the potential to remedy several negative consequences of equal population districts.”

  3. As to the question of "disproportionate distribution of power," it was clear from registered voting numbers that the RS ran the other day ( that we certainly did solve that problem; just shifted it to other wards: new Ward 1 now 884 voters; Ward 2, 658; Ward 3, 822; Ward 4, 759; Ward 5, 825 voters.

  4. I can't find your quotations, at least not in that Ostrow article. They're not there.

    At any rate, Ostrow does catalogue the problems with weighted voting which "do not equalize all aspects of legislative representation" (p. 1873).

    "Weighted voting generates inequality in functional representation and voting power, and increases the risk of minority vote dilution" (Id).

    Also, "[the] Supreme Court has never directly addressed the constitutionality of weighted voting" (p. 1874), which is not the same thing as saying it's constitutional.

    Ostrow goes on to propose a combination of weighted voting with equal-population districts. Since we've now achieved the latter, and by the next census any variation between the Wards is likely to remain within the required margins, I suggest that you bring together some like-minded people and attempt Ostrow's proposal.

    Good luck with that, but I don't think I'll be joining your group. I opt for the more "functional representation" we just gave ourselves.

    1. Sorry about the quotes. I inadvertently took them from a draft of the piece and didn't check the published the version. But I appreciate your reading it because she does argue, as it says in the intro abstract that "weighted voting “weighted voting should be used to comply with the constitutional one-person, one-vote requirement while preserving representation for political units on the legislative body.” Etc. But I'm not about to mount a campaign to bring weighted voting back. I'll be interested to see what the new wards do for "representation for political units," which has always been my concern -- one man's functional representation is another's gerrymandering. I'm just trying to put some of the myths that cropped up during the campaign to rest; one being that saying something is unconstitutional makes it so and that equal population districts guarantee equal representation. And thanks again for correcting my errors.

    2. And pardon the typos... Haste makes errors!

  5. 1994 -2017 time for D.D. TO MOVE ON AND LET A NEW WITH-IT FACE ON THE COUNCIL. " Good night Tim and dont't come back". That what our alderman think when there is a difference of opinion. D D is N.F.G. for new Hudson...