The first discovery reported--of no small significance--is that Hudson is the only city in New York State, and probably in the entire United States, that uses weighted voting to achieve the bedrock principle of American democracy: "one person, one vote." In the Executive Summary, Friedman and Barbieri suggested that "the City reconsider its apportionment plan in light of the following":
- The constitutional principle of "one person, one vote" requires that, within any legislative body, each citizen have an equally weighted vote.
- The most common, and preferred, method of complying with one person, one vote is to draw districts with equal populations.
- Weighted voting has been used in counties--and only counties--as a means of complying with one person, one vote, while simultaneously preserving representation for traditional, independent political subdivisions (such as towns and cities).
- The justification for permitting weighted voting at the county level does not apply with as much force to a single political jurisdiction, such as a city.
- Even if weighted voting within a city satisfies the constitutional requirement of one person, one vote, the method that Hudson uses to weight the vote (which relies upon a mathematical calculation that allocates votes based upon the relative voting power of each district, rather than in proportion to the population of each district) raises constitutional questions.
The discussion included statistics that, although vaguely known to most of us, are nonetheless quite stunning. The population of Hudson's most populous ward, the Fifth Ward, is 2,484; the population of Hudson's least populous ward, the Fourth Ward, is 725. The 2,484 people in the Fifth Ward represent 37 percent of the total population of Hudson, but when the two aldermen from the Fifth Ward vote together, as they usually do, their votes represent 46 percent of the total vote. It was also pointed out that on our eleven member Common Council, it takes only four members to constitute a majority. (Of course, that four person majority requires the aldermen from the Third Ward and the Fifth Ward to vote together--something that rarely if ever happens in a vote that is in any way controversial.)
Looking at the map of Hudson's election districts (above), the boundaries of which are the same as the ward boundaries, it doesn't appear that the Fifth Ward is all that much bigger geographically, but there are other things to consider. More than two-thirds of the First Ward is taken up by the South Bay. A similar situation exists in the Second Ward with the North Bay. The Third Ward includes the Hudson Correctional Facility (whose inmates can no longer be counted in the population of Hudson) and the cemetery. The Fourth Ward includes the huge property owned by the Firemen's Home, whose residents are counted in Hudson's population but their number is small compared with the vast geographic area of the home.
Back in 1886, when the Fifth Ward was created, the boundaries probably made sense. There were houses above Fifth and north of Warren, and there were a few houses along Green Street, but much of the area was taken up by the fairgrounds, and, as this photograph of Green Street, taken around 1890 and presented in two parts below, shows, it was still a pretty rural place. That's not the case anymore.
Gossips has been harping for a while on the inequity of the weighted vote, but the question is: How do we fix it?
Friedman and Barbieri suggested a goal: six election districts of equal population, each represented by only one alderman, with boundaries that would be redrawn after every decennial census. (Reducing the number of aldermen from ten to six would save roughly $25,000, a saving which would be reduced if there had to be a sixth representative from Hudson to the Board of Supervisors.) To create the six election districts, the Fifth Ward would have to be split in two (the Fifth Ward is already divided into two election districts), the eastern boundary of the First Ward would have to move farther east into the Third Ward, and part of the Fifth Ward would have to returned to the Fourth Ward. (The map below, which shows the ward boundaries in 1873, reveals that the Fifth Ward--now the biggest ward--was carved out of the Fourth Ward--now the smallest ward.)
Linda Mussmann, who lives in the Fourth Ward and whose not-for-profit, TSL, is located in the Fourth Ward, defined the problem: "Those in power [i.e., the Fifth Ward aldermen] are not likely to give it up."
Predictably, Rick Scalera, who lives in the Fifth Ward and currently serves as Fifth Ward supervisor, noted that the Hofstra law students' report had "conveniently left out" the fact that a referendum to change the ward boundaries was defeated twice in the past. Eric Lane, dean of Hofstra Law School, responded that the failure of past referendums had been considered, but it was decided that, although politically relevant, it was not legally relevant. "Notwithstanding that the majority of the people like it, it doesn't mean it is constitutional," Lane told Scalera.
Another problem with Hudson's weighted vote system that Friedman and Barbieri brought up is that it does not give citizens equal access to their representatives. At one time, in 1965, for example, when the Comprehensive Development Plan was created, the Fifth Ward, identified in that document as the "High School Neighborhood," was pretty homogeneous, and probably everyone who lived there felt adequately represented by the Fifth Ward aldermen of the day: Neil E. Reardon, Jr., and William D. Troy. Today things are different. Not all of the 2,484 people who live in the Fifth Ward--at least not those that Gossips has spoken with--feel that the present day Fifth Ward aldermen represent their interests.
In spite of failed referendums in the past, reapportioning the City of Hudson is an idea whose time has come. Apropos those failed referendums, here's a confession. Gossips voted no in both of them: the first time, because I was new to Hudson but thought myself savvy enough to be suspicious of any change proposed by city government; the second time, because I couldn't imagine abandoning the historic ward boundaries. I still find that hard to accept, but my sentimental attachment to the historic boundaries of my beloved First Ward notwithstanding, the time has come to make the representation of the citizens of Hudson equitable by creating new election districts. The wards as historic and cultural entities will live on.
COPYRIGHT 2014 CAROLE OSTERINK