Those who support the status quo of the weighted vote like to remind people that there was a referendum on abandoning the weighted vote in favor of equal population election districts in 2003 and that referendum failed. Fifth Ward supervisor Rick Scalera, former Fifth Ward alderman Cappy Pierro, and current Fifth Ward alderman Bart Delaney have used such adverbs as soundly and handily when describing that defeat, but in fact the referendum failed by only 68 votes: 610 people wanted to switch to equal population election districts; 678 wanted to keep the current ward boundaries and the weighted vote.
In 2003, the weight of the votes cast by the aldermen from the Fifth Ward carried three times the weight of the votes of the aldermen representing the First and Fourth wards. Today, it is closer to four times--3.8 to be exact. When the two aldermen from the Fifth Ward vote together, their votes represent 72 percent of the votes needed for a simple majority. By contrast, when the two aldermen from the First or Fourth wards vote together, their votes represent less than 19 percent of the votes needed for a simple majority.
Whenever there is a serious discussion of eliminating the weighted vote, the question arises of what the alternative would look like. So Gossips requested and received from Tracy Delaney, our city clerk, the map that showed the equal population election districts proposed in 2003. (It was Delaney and then city clerk Bonnie Colwell who created the map that divided the city into districts of equal population.) Comparing the proposed district boundaries with the existing ward boundaries is an interesting exercise.
The changes proposed in 2003 involved splitting the Fifth Ward into two districts and moving the boundary lines of the other wards. The boundaries of the First Ward were moved north to include all of Hudson Terrace and the north side of the 200 block of Warren Street. The boundaries of the Fourth Ward were moved east and south to include the 500 block of Warren and Columbia streets and the south side of the 500 block of State Street. The boundary between the Third and Fifth wards was also moved. The result was six election districts of almost equal population: District 1: 1,108; District 2: 1,136; District 3: 1,135; District 4: 1,154; District 5: 1,147; District 6: 1,147.
The idea of abandoning the historic wards in favor of election districts is a hard thing to contemplate. Many of us hold in our minds and hearts the 1873 Beers atlas map of Hudson which shows the city in a kind of visual four-part harmony.
But the symmetry was lost when the Fifth Ward was created in 1886, so maybe it's time to give up the notion of symmetry and embrace the constitutional goal of equal representation.
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