Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Move the People or Move the Lines?

Of the several topics touched upon at last night's two hour long Common Council meeting, the one that Register-Star reporter John Mason chose to write about is the dilemma over ward boundaries: "City pushes county to realign voting districts."

As loyal Gossips readers know, in the course of the past year, it has been discovered that two ward boundaries--one between the Fourth and Fifth wards and the other between the Third and Fifth wards--are in practice different from the ward boundary descriptions that appear in the city charter, Chapter 1-4. The solution being pursued by the Common Council is to move the boundaries back to where the charter says they should be, even though one of those boundaries bisects the Firemen's Home, and reassign a bunch of people who have been believed all along that they were in the Fourth Ward or the Third Ward to the already oversized Fifth Ward. The one person who seems not to be going along with this plan is Republican Commissioner of Elections Jason Nastke.

The city charter was adopted in 1921, and the ward descriptions in that document very likely predate it by nearly forty years. The description of the border between the Fourth and Fifth wards is particularly arcane--"thence northerly along the center line of Fifth Street and a projection of said center line of Fifth Street to the northerly bounds of the City"--suggesting that it was written before Harry Howard Avenue existed.

It's hard to imagine that the boundaries the Board of Elections has been using, apparently for decades, just drifted into existence. It's more reasonable to think that there was a deliberate process--one that unfortunately was never memorialized by an amendment to the city charter. Still, short of doing the research required to discover when, how, and why the current boundaries came about, wouldn't it be simpler to deal with the current dilemma by simply amending the charter to make the descriptions in that document match the boundaries that have been observed in practice for at least two generations?


  1. First, voters have to be voting where the statute says they're supposed to be voting. Then, a charter change could be voted on. If it passes, they could be moved back. It is not that difficult a process to move voters from one district to another. In other words, let's follow the law. Let's use the process that the law dictates.

  2. Putting aside the Columbia triangle error, which I suspect arose sometime in the 1930's due to Union Turnpike's name within the City of Hudson being changed to Columbia Street, which perhaps caused confusion, historically where people vote followed the ordinance language (as opposed to the erroneous ward map Carole posted) quite well. The Fireman's home was in fact in the 4th ward, and the Crosswinds Apts had not been built. So the only error was three houses on the east side of Harry Howard Avenue who were voting in the 4th ward rather than the 5th ward. I suspect the reason for that, is that no survey of the projection of the 5th street 4th-5th ward boundary line had ever been done, and so it was assumed that those houses were west of 5th street in the 4th ward when they were in fact east of 5th street in the 5th ward. And since only 3 houses were involved, it really did not matter much.

    But then in 2008-2009 Crosswinds was completed, and firemen's home footprint moved so that the ward boundary line bisected it, and suddenly rather than 6 residents or something in play, it was more like 300 residents.

    All Mr. Nastke has to do is read the city ordinance. That will tell him where the ward lines are. The survey projecting 5th street north has been completed. Those are the only two factors that matter. What folks have been doing in the past is legally irrelevant. Mr. Nastke needs to either start following the law, and doing it now, or he needs to be sued, and promptly. Meanwhile the state attorney general should be notified of this situation. Disenfranchisement is serious business, and should be taken seriously.

    So far, it looks like Mr. Nastke until all of this was brought to light has just tossed the matter in the circular file, and been sitting on his hands, other than talking to politicians, and listening to them tell him what they have been doing in the past, rather than researching the law, and following it.

    Absent Mr. Nastke coming to his senses immediately, it looks like the County is going to need to add some attorney's fees into its budget, because it may end up paying for the fees of both sides, when it goes down in flames on this one.

  3. The Common Council has the primary authority to set the boundaries of election districts. They may request the Board of Elections to define them. See Election Code 4-100.

    Election districts must conform to ward boundaries. That is true whether the Common Council were defining the ED boundaries, or the BOE were doing so at the request of the Common Council.

    It also appears that the boundary between 5-1 and 5-2 does not conform with state law since it does not use visible features.

  4. The current ward boundaries are shown "Atlas of the Hudson river valley from New York city to Troy, including a section of about 8 miles in width" published in 1891. A copy of this atlas is available at the Hudson River Valley Institute in Poughkeepsie. A digitized version is available at You will be most interested in Section 26.

    The US Census shows Hudson with 5 wards from 1890, 4 wards from 1860, and 2 wards in 1850.

    Property records appear to have the correct Ward numbers.

    I suspect that the route of Harry Howard probably dates from the late 18th to early 19th century.

    Harry Howard runs into Joslen Blvd, which then runs into US 9, which continues northward to Stockport before then following Kinderhook Creek into Kinderhook. The alignment along Fairview Avenue also existed in the late 19th century, but it seems too straight for a wagon road earlier in the 19th century.

    US 9 has since at least 1929 topo sheets been on Fairview Avenue, but took a shorter route using Prospect Avenue, rather than the current jog into town.

    The road to Stockport and Kinderhook may have originally followed Mill Street from the North Bay area. Carroll and Short Street don't fit the street grid, but they do provide a direct connection to Harry Howard. You can envision the gridded portion of Hudson as being a terrain peninsula jutting out between North Bay and South Bay. The Short Street connection to Harry Howard below Underhill Pond is at the base of the peninsula.

  5. Jimtex is the ultimate researcher. No doubt about that. Below is a link to the map to which he refers, which is "zoomable." It's section 27 of the Atlas actually (published in 1891). And indeed the ward lines on the map match the language in the current City Charter. Perhaps the BOE should just photocopy this map and use it, rather than their erroneous one. :)