Thursday, July 23, 2015

More About Tuesday's Meeting: Part 3

There was a resolution before the Council to bring an Article 78 lawsuit against Columbia County seeking "a judicial order compelling the County to enforce the ward boundaries established in the Hudson City Charter and Code." This action stems from the discovery earlier this year that two of the ward boundaries that have been used by the Board of Elections for decades differ from the boundaries defined in the city charter. The two boundaries in question are the boundary between the Fourth and Fifth wards in the area of Harry Howard Avenue and the boundary between the Third and Fifth wards in the area of Columbia Street and Columbia Turnpike. How or why the boundaries came to be changed, no one knows, but some members of the Common Council want the Board of Elections to amend the boundaries to conform to what is described in the charter, and Republican commissioner of elections Jason Nastke is unwilling to do so. The resolution calling for an Article 78 to compel him to act is filled with words and phrases stressing the gravity and the urgency of the situation: "continued intransigence," "threatens to create chaos," "undermines our system of government and representative democracy," and "angst and grief."

During the discussion of the resolution, Alderman Bart Delaney (Fifth Ward) suggested the matter should go to referendum "to let the people decide." City attorney Carl Whitbeck explained that the charter was clear and bringing an Article 78 would force the County to take action. Alderman Alexis Keith (Fourth Ward), seeming to confuse the issue at hand with a complete redistricting, brought up the fact that a referendum had failed in 2003. Whitbeck noted that the suit was directed against one person, Jason Nastke, explained that the Board of Elections was being asked to correct mistakes or unauthorized changes that had been introduced by the Board of Election at some time in the past, and reiterated that the charter was clear about where the boundaries should be.

When the vote was taken, five aldermen--Robert "Doc" Donahue (Fifth Ward), Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), Keith, Abdus Miah (Second Ward), and Ohrine Stewart (Fourth Ward)--voted against it. Before the vote was tallied, Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) declared, "I'm in a room full of stupid people." Despite the opposition, the resolution passed with 1,104 ayes (a majority is 1,015) and 924 nos.

Breaking News: Gossips just received word that the mayor has vetoed the resolution to bring an Article 78 lawsuit against Columbia County. He wants instead for the language of the charter to be changed to reflect the practice, and his objection to the Council's proposed course of action reflects some of the spirit of the resolution: "The stress and confusion that would be placed on the voters of these respected wards placing them in new wards to vote just prior to an upcoming election would be significant." The mayor's entire veto message can be read here. It should be noted that the mayor lives in one of the affected areas--a part of the city currently identified by the Board of Elections as being in the Third Ward but which according to the charter is really part of the Fifth Ward.


  1. True to form the mayor in all his wisdom did as expected of his status / situation in Hudtown.

    I applaud his hindsight .

  2. In whatever manner the ward lines have been defined by the Board of Elections, and whenever that happened, those lines were authorized by the city, which was responsible, until a couple of years ago, for drawing election-district lines. Furthermore, the city had the responsibility for knowing that the Board's lines conformed to their own ward lines. We don't know when this mistake was made, or why, and it certainly was long before any of us were there, but it continues to be incorrect to put the blame on the Board of Elections, no matter how easy it apparently is to do (which seems to be very easy), regardless of which Board it may have been when those lines were so defined.

    1. The Board of Elections should figure out how to use the application that the Columbia County Real Property Tax Service Agency uses for displaying parcel boundaries. Incidentally, the tax records match the city charter ward boundaries.

  3. The VTD boundaries were first delineated for the 1990 census. VTD boundaries have no official meaning, but are intended to help the census bureau provide data for redistricting purposes.

    They are useless for use by Hudson, since they don't match the ward boundaries, they combine wards 1,2, and 4 into a single VTD; they don't match the boundary between wards 4 and 5, and could not be used to produce equal population wards. Only the census blocks could be used to provide the necessary granularity.

    The VTDs may actually be harmful. For example the maps on the BOE web site show certain areas that everyone agrees are in Ward 4 as being in Ward 5. An unwary voter might show up at the fire station rather than Columbia County office building.

    After the 1990 census, Columbia County reweighted the board of supervisors. They used the VTD boundaries. Therefore Ward 5 was overweighted, and Ward 4 was underweighted.

    After the 2000 census, in 2002, the Common Council approved an official resolution with the ward populations. The populations was based on the actual charter. After the proposal to switch to 5 equal population districts was defeated in 2003, those populations were used to calculate the new voting weights. Apparently no one noticed that the people who lived between Columbia Street and Columbia Turnpike were voting in Ward 3, nor that the a couple houses on Harry Howard were voting in Ward 4 (the bulk of the Harry Howard population is just north of Underhill Pond and is in Ward 4 and apparently votes in Ward 4.