Thursday, March 26, 2015

Legal Committee Discusses the Weighted Vote

At the last Hudson FORWARD meeting, Victor Mendolia made a PowerPoint presentation on the weighted vote system in Hudson. That presentation can be viewed at the Hudson FORWARD website.

Last night, the Common Council Legal Committee too addressed the issue of the weighted vote, starting with a memo on the subject prepared by former assistant city attorney Daniel Tuczinski. In the memo, Tuczinski considered "three major issues which arise in analyzing the application of the weighted voting principles in the City of Hudson." Those three issues are:
  1. Does each Ward boundary contain the proper population allocation for purposes of accurate voting and calculation of weighted vote?
  2. Is the current weighted voting system used by the City of Hudson Constitutional?
  3. Does the current system of representation by five Supervisors from five Wards within the City of Hudson on the County Board of Supervisors comply with Constitutional requirements?
On the first issue, Tuczinski concludes:
It is recommended that the first step to remedy these problems is to properly identify the actual Ward boundaries so that each voter will be voting in the proper district. The most accurate way to identify the Ward boundaries is with a City wide survey from which a proper map can be created which needs to be provided to the Columbia County Board of Elections. The 2010 Census blocks should then be applied within each properly identified Ward boundary.
On the other two issues, Tuczinski concluded: "Given the foregoing, which is neither conclusive nor exhaustive, I suggest a more detailed analysis be undertaken."

Stephen Dunn, attorney and Hudson resident who has undertaken the task of analyzing the arcane mathematics of the weighted vote, had been invited to address the Legal Committee. Dunn began his presentation, which soon devolved into talk about percentage of deviation, by saying that he did not think any city has ever had a weighted vote system. Dunn's opinion seems to be supported by Gossips' research into the genesis of Hudson's weighted vote system. In 1974, when Hudson decided it needed to comply with the "one man, one vote" principle, which had been established by a Supreme Court decision ten years earlier, the Common Council was given a choice: a weighted vote system or a realignment of the ward boundaries. The mayor at the time, Sam Wheeler suggested that the advice of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors be sought, since the Board of Supervisors had adopted a weighted vote system just the year before. After five months of deliberation, the Common Council decided to pursue the weighted vote. Dr. Lee Papayanopoulos, who had calculated the weighted vote for the Board of Supervisors, said he could do the same for the City of Hudson. What seems not to have been considered by Papayanopoulos, who is not a constitutional lawyer but teaches in the Department of Management Science and Information Systems at the Rutgers Business School, is that, unlike the municipalities that make the divisions of the county, the wards in Hudson have no individual governmental power.

Alderman Abdus Miah (Second Ward), who seems convinced that the City must remedy the weighted vote problem in order to avoid a legal challenge will cost the City $100,000 to defend, suggested a simple solution to the problem: do away with the wards and ward representation and make all the aldermen "citywide." The suggestion met with this question from Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), who chairs the committee: "What happens if all the aldermen come from the same block?" Miah said he didn't think that would happen, but let's look at history.

The most prominent government official who is elected citywide is the mayor. Since 1974, when the weighted vote system was adopted, every mayor save two has resided in the Fifth Ward. Sam Wheeler (1974-1975), Mike Yusko (1980-1991), Bill Allen (1992-1993), Rick Scalera (1994-1999, 2002-2005, 2008-2011), Ken Cranna (2000-2001), and Dick Tracy (2006-2007) all lived in the Fifth Ward. The two exceptions are Paul J. Colwell (1976-1979), who lived on the 300 block of Union Street, in the Third Ward, and our current mayor, William Hallenbeck, who lives on Columbia Turnpike, in an area at the edge of the city that until recently was thought to be in the Third Ward but turns out is really in the Fifth Ward.



  1. One of the advantages of the current Ward system is that it seems to be a fairly good representation of our neighborhoods and so provides a decent ethnic and racial diversity on the Council. If you drop the weighted vote, then you have to redraw the ward boundaries in order to achieve equitable population representation on the Council. I wonder what that would look like..... pm

    1. Wonder no more, Peter Meyer. Steve Dunn has drawn a map of equal population districts, which appeared in Victor Mendolia's PowerPoint and in this Gossips post:

  2. Thanks, Carole. Gossips: on top of the news and ahead of the times!

  3. Hudson's ward populations will continuously vary, and so depending on the percentage of deviation, retaining our weighted vote and still redistricting too may obviate the need for a referendum on redistricting every 10 years.

    I believe that Papayanopoulos also assisted Cortland County, but as you suggest he may not know the difference between governmental and nongovernmental entities.

    Nevertheless, "[i]t should be noted that some counties (e.g., Cortland) redistrict to within 5% and then do weighted voting as well" (p. iii).

  4. I just read a story (in Metroland?) about a New York court rejecting Albany's redistricting proposal (for the second time) because it didn't pass racial minority muster. I haven't had a chance to look at Steve Dunn's Wards (and I didn't see street names on it so I can't get a good feel for where the lines are drawn), but I can envision some some really complicated lines being drawn that try to balance population equity and racial equity. My preference would be to divide the city into 10 wards (with 700 voters/residents each, and 10 council members) and let neighborhood democracy reign!