Sunday, February 10, 2013

The State of the Weighted Vote

Listening to the discussion of weighted vote at the Common Council Legal Committee on Thursday night was a little like listening to people speaking in code. Even when you had a copy of the twenty-seven-page document from Professor Lee Papayanopoulos, with seventeen pages of alternative computation tables, the conversation seemed arcane. Each of the plans had a six-digit ID number, and it was those numbers that the committee members used when discussing the relative merits of each plan. 

After introducing the concept of the weighted vote and explaining the objectives, the Papayanopoulos document makes a "Primary Recommendation" and a "Valid Alternative Recommendation"--the difference between the two being the total number of votes and the number needed for each majority (simple, two-thirds, three-quarters). In the first scheme, the votes total slightly more than 2,000; in the second, the total number of votes is around 400.

Since most votes in the Common Council require only a simple majority, committee focused its attention on that. Discussion centered on two plans: 433642, which Papayanopoulos recommended, and 433626, which committee chair John Friedman (Third Ward) believed was more successful in achieving the objectives of maximizing egality, "the degree to which members of the Wards have equal votes," and minimizing discrepancy between the each ward's population and voting power. This chart compares the current weighted vote with the two schemes being considered.

For egality, the higher the number the better. For discrepancy, the closer to zero the better. Plan 433642, has an egality of 5 and a range of discrepancies from -4.28 percent to 2.49 percent. Plan 433626 has an egality of 4 and a range of discrepancies from -1.88 percent to 1.75 percent.

The intention was for the Legal Committee to make a recommendation to the full Council, but the Legal Committee could not come to unanimous agreement. When polled, Friedman, Common Council president Don Moore, and Alderman David Marston (First Ward) preferred 433626; Alderman Cappy Pierro (Fifth Ward), champion of the status quo, preferred 433642, because it was "closer to what we have now." The fifth member of the Legal Committee, Alderman Abdus Miah (Second Ward) was absent.

It was decided that Moore would ask Papayanopoulos to elaborate on why he had recommended 433642 instead of 433626 and that the full document be distributed to all members of the Common Council, so that the issue can be taken up by the full Council at the informal  meeting on Monday, February 11.


  1. yikes this is hard to understand but I do get it that the entire south side of Warren, all of Union and all of Allen street residents will only have a whisper of votes in city matters.

    1. Is this guy actually being paid by 'we the people' to continue the same old same old?

      This is no solution at all by any means.

      If you want a 'weighted vote' how about making the property tax in equal sized wards the common denominator .

  2. The population percentages of the wards are:

    11.32% (1st);
    12.03% (2nd);
    17.84% (3rd);
    20.01% (4th);
    38.81% (5th).

    By splitting the 5th ward's current total of 2485 residents into two, the resulting wards would still be the second and third largest wards in the city, just behind the 2nd ward's 1281 residents.

    Ostensibly because it wasn't the hired statistician's job to consider redistricting, the meeting of the Legal Committee barely spoke to the subject. Resident's questions on redistricting were dismissed with "but that would take a referendum," as if that reply alone implicitly explained away such a ridiculous suggestion.

    This seeming agreement among committee members that redistricting options were not in the running for recommendation was a far cry from the Democratic Committee of 2010.

    In 2010, before Hudson's numbers were updated by the census, a plan which "would involve redrawing the centuries-old ward lines to make seven districts of equal populations" was urged by the HCDC, along with several other reforms. A charter revision commission was requested "[to] be made up of elected officials, civic leaders, business owners and ordinary citizens, to engender the broadest possible consensus on the recommendations.” There was broad agreement for the proposal in city government.

    "Dems Call for Change in City Gov't Structure -"

    Where can citizens learn more about the findings of such commissions, so that when we ask questions at public meetings we are better able to appreciate the inexplicable dismissiveness of our apparent betters on the city legislature?

    (The only exception to the above was Mr. Moore, who gave genuine replies to questions.)

  3. This decision is left up to the same people who don't understand the basics of 'fracking?'

    What makes any of these suggestions 'equal representation?'

    Why not gerrymander the wards into equal portions so the weighted vote BS becomes equal vote for all aldermen?

  4. Tim, if you'd like to change the ward boundaries that requires a charter revision that itself requires a referendum. That's why your idea wasn't discussed. If you want to see charter reform either a citizen or the Council or the Mayor may begin the process.

  5. Vince, read the professor's report and/or come to a meeting. You might learn something -- such as how weighted voting works, the historical reasons why it is used in municipalities such as Hudson, its limits, etc. Then, perhaps, the entire process won't seem so much like a mystery or the activities of a coven.

  6. My question at the Legal Committee meeting concerned weighted voting AND charter reform, simultaneously.

    To have asked a question on redistricting that included a weighted vote component, I still believe I was in the right place. It is the job of the committee to make recommendations to the council on the weighted vote.

    I had introduced "a hypothetical question," and further asked the committee to attend my question as a "thought experiment." Although the question was not simple, the answer merited a simple Yes or a No.

    The immediate response to my hypothetical scenario was "But why would you do that!?," which was hardly an appropriate or respectful reply to a question that was hypothetically put.

    After further pressing my question, nearly every member of the committee erupted at once, speaking at a single member of the public in what seemed excited and exasperated tones. Nobody could be understood in the cacophony.

    Then, after Mr. Moore graciously supplied an affirmative answer to my unusual question, the chairman asked if everyone could please move on. This was agreeable to me, and I said as much.

    But this was not acceptable to one alderman who was sitting out of hearing range from the chairman. This fellow decided to reopen the matter by directing a question away from the committee and towards a member of the public while insisting that the citizen address him personally. He became visibly livid on being twice denied a response, after which the chairman had to restore order.

    I am trying to find some specific treatment of all of the above problems in "Robert's Rules of Order," but so far I can only locate these general recommendations:

    "All remarks must be addressed to the chairman and confined to the question before the assembly, avoiding all personalities and reflections upon anyone's motives," (p. 116).

    Before I asked my question of the committee, another resident whose question could have used a little assistance from the assembled experts was told by an alderman, "obviously you're not an expert on this."

    I can understand why people who don't enjoy being bullied stay away from these meetings.

  7. Does the city have the option of removing Firemen's Home residents from the Fourth Ward count, like prison inmates are counted?

  8. No, it does not. The Prison population was removedas the result of an act of the State legislature.

  9. Thanks for the invite John.

    During my 23 years here I have had the pleasure of attending meetings and learning how this town works.

    My last visit and comments to the DPW has resulted in my garden being immediately weed wacked into oblivion the next day and every year since while sumack grows out of the sidewalks of front street.

    So good luck with the bully syndrome here that gets nothing done for the good of all but just the chosen few.