Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Fair & Equal

Gossips has been talking for years about the inequity of the weighted vote in Hudson--an inequity that became even greater with the 2010 census. Last October, a Council resolution authorizing a referendum that would have been the first step in a multiyear process, devised by the Common Council Legal Committee to correct the situation, was vetoed by Mayor William Hallenbeck. This year, a grassroots campaign is being launched, starting today, to bring fair and equal voting to the legislative body in Hudson.

Today, June 15, is the anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling in 1964 that established the principle of "one person, one vote." Fittingly, there will be a press conference today at 5 p.m. at the Hudson Area Library to explain the problem (for those who don't already understand it) and set forth the process by which the voters of Hudson can achieve the constitutional standard of "one person, one vote." The grassroots initiative involves a petition to put a referendum on the ballot for November, and petition signatures must be gathered between now and July 1.

If you can't make it to the press conference this afternoon, you can learn about the problem and the proposed solution in a video that can be viewed here. You can also visit the website to find out where you can sign the petition and how you can support the effort to establish "one person, one vote" in Hudson.


  1. Do we know who has started this "grassroots" campaign? Thanks.

    1. As I understand it, plans for the campaign originated with Hudson FORWARD. Those who have been working on this campaign other the past several months include Kevin Hannan, Ted Gramkow, Don Moore, Peter Frank, Steve Dunn, Bob Rasner, Charlie Suisman, and Beth Kanaga. There may be others I'm overlooking.

  2. The group misrepresents 'Reynolds v Sims' and misunderstands 'Abate v Mundt'.

    'Reynolds v Sims' requires that the voting strength of representatives be proportional to the population of the area they represent.

    This can be achieved by apportioning additional representatives to more populous areas or give additional voting weight to representatives from those areas.

    The only concern that the SCOTUS has demonstrated with apportionment of multiple representative to an area, is the possibility of racial, ethnic, or political minorities being submerged in a large district. This might be the case in Hudson if Ward 2 were extended further east, such that minorities were unable to elect their candidate of choice.

    'Abate v Mundt' concerned the apportionment of the Rockland County BOS, where each town was apportioned a whole number of supervisors.

    The issue was that this resulted in greater relative deviation range than that commonly accepted by the SCOTUS. The 10% limit is not a hard limit, but rather a burden-shifting threshold.

    If the relative deviation range is less than 10%, then the burden is on the challengers to prove they are injured, which may be almost impossible to show (see recent SCOTUS ruling on Arizona legislature).

    If the deviation range is greater than 10%, then the burden is shifted to the jurisdiction to justify the deviation. Rockland County successfully did so based on the relationship between town and county governments. But the key is that the relationship was a rational justification for a small excess deviation.

    Over the decades the relative deviation increased, and eventually a federal district judge through the apportionment plan out.

    But since a weighted voting system does not require any deviation, there is no need to justify its use.

    1. If you'd attended the meeting, you'd know that the group did not claim that the weighted vote is unconstitutional.

      Your arguments above are merely abstract, and your solutions are not made easier by the misleadingly simple "this can be achieved by ..."

      Every solution presents its own difficulties, so why not engage this solution which reaches approximately 1% deviation?

      To me, this proposal is so straightforward and uncomplicated it's elegant.

      I'd suggest that you study the proposal itself. Then, if you're opposed to the idea (above you given no indication that you know what the proposal is), come back and discuss what's actually being proposed.

  3. I was unable to attend the press conference. I did watch the video that was linked to in the blog post.

    It claims that Hudson does not comply with One Man One Vote (in other words that it is contrary to 'Reynolds v Sims'). This is false.

    The website also included 'Reynolds v Sims' among its resources. Even sleepy Hudson couldn't get away with violating OMOV for 52 years, if it really did violate OMOV.

    It _is_ a simple fact that different population sizes can be accommodated by apportioning representatives in proportion to the population that they represent, or by weighting the vote of representatives in proportion to the population.

    Perhaps you could explain why you find that "misleading"?

    The principle of OMOV refers to votes of the people who elect the representatives, not to the representatives who are elected.

    Look at the video where they are depicting the aldermen who represent the 3rd and 4th wards as straddling 3rd Street. A more accurate picture would depict the population of each ward, say with one figure for every 100 persons (6, 15, 11, 7, and 25 figures for the respective wards). They could even be distributed based on where they live.

    The reason the aldermen from the 5th Ward have more votes than those for the 1st, 3rd, and 4th wards combined, is because there are people in the 5th ward.

    Alternative, they could show the original figure, and show the alderman for Ward 1 moving down to around 5th Street, and for Ward 3 being moved across Warren. The cartoon figure might even be shown as looking both ways before crossing. If they wanted to use a bit of artistic license they could have a dump truck drive by on Columbia Street.

    1. In the same comment you address something which ostensibly needs changing ("different population sizes can be accommodated, [etc.]"), but then say it's false that Hudson doesn't comply with one-man-one-vote.

      So which problem are you attempting to remedy?

      As a resident of a weak Ward, I've been convinced for years that Hudson doesn't comply with one-man-one-vote. That's why I don't find it especially convincing that one of your arguments is that "even sleepy Hudson couldn't get away with violating OMOV for 52 years ..."

      Why not? Short of a court challenge, what is the mechanism which would have forced Hudson to change its voting system?

      But back to your fix for the problem you say doesn't exist, you're still calling for a change to the Charter, even a tweak, to preserve something you see as valuable in the current imbalance. The undesirability of the current system notwithstanding, the implication that yours is an easier fix is not very realistic.

      Because you haven't troubled yourself to explain why your idea is so much of an easier fix than the new proposal, though it seems implied everywhere, you come across as carping.

      After this worthy group of neighbors put so much thought into a durable proposal which was unknown to me before yesterday, I find it a bit facile - and yes misleading - that your effort to debunk them a) refuses to acknowledge there's even a problem, and b) offers an allegedly simple fix which is short on details but thick with disdain.

      (For context, my full sentence was that "Your arguments above are merely abstract, and your solutions are not made easier by the misleadingly simple 'this can be achieved by ...'")

      How would you persuade someone like me, from a weak ward, that your approach is more constructive than the new proposal?

      Your response should acknowledge a few local truths:

      Hudson has a longstanding problem which affects everyone.

      Any durable solution must accommodate more than one point of view.

      Compromise is not easy, and there's probably no easy way to modify the City Charter.

      The imbalance of the weighted vote fosters invidiousness in City government, and hard feelings among citizens.

      Currently, communal sentiment is sacrificed in order to perpetuate an unnecessary and arguably ludicrous voting system. Only the most abstracted thinking could overlook the actual costs to our concrete relations.

      The new proposal would address all of these problems, while also offering permanent good ground for community-building.

  4. The map on the the group's website shows that the populations of the current wards are 1:593; 2:1477; 3:1076; 4:716; and 5:2541.

    Yet the populations that Columbia County used for setting its voting weights (and were presumably also used by Hudson) were 1:770; 2:1281; 3:1142; 4:725; and 5:2485.

    Why the discrepancies?

    1. Hi Jim. You know the reason very, very well. It's because the population counts were wrong, due to misallocation of the population of chopped census blocks, and using ward lines that did not comport with the legal description of the wards in the city charter.

      Just because folks in the past can't count, does not mean the Fair & Equal vote campaign should. We chose to use lines for the existing wards, with accurate population counts for those who live with such wards using the accurate lines.

      You also know the legal flaw in the Hudson weighted voting regime, beyond the lack of any justification for it, that is worth departing from the main straight forward system of equal population wards, with each councilperson having the same vote as every other one, to wit, one.

      That is because the Papadopoulos black box for calculating voting power deviations assumed that each of the alderpersons from the same ward, elected at the same time, vote randomly vis a vis each other. That assumption is ludicrous. But that aspect of the Constitutional problem with weighted voting in a jurisdiction with no sub-govermental units, where the town council presidents also serve as supervisors for the county, justifying a weighted voter regime, in a way that does not apply to Hudson in any way, shape or form, is very difficult to explain to voters. As the senior partner in the first law firm that I worked at, once told me, hey Dunn, haven't you figured out yet that sometimes a nickel's worth of accuracy is just not worth a pound's worth of confusion?

    2. Steve,

      I do not know that the Common Council has ever made an affirmative determination that the Firemen's Home should now be in the 5th Ward.

      When the Common Council passed the resolution directing the CBOE to follow the ward lines in the charter (later vetoed by the mayor), did they provide any direction to the CBOE election as to what the ward boundaries are?

      Continuation of the 5th Street extension through the house (did the survey determine which rooms were split>) on Clinton, swimming across Underhill Pond, and emerging just east of the line of houses on Harry Howard has created a ton's worth of confusion.

      There is NO justification for using that line unless the current wards are maintained.

      The apportionment of split blocks is an estimate, and makes certain assumptions that we know are most likely wrong. All housing units are not equal. The Hudson Terrace units have 1,2, and 3 bedrooms. The block divided by the 5th Street extension includes portions of the Crosswind Apartments, houses on Harry Howard both north and south of Underhill Pond, houses on 5th Street, and Clinton Street, and one on 6th Street.

      The allocation of split blocks is a necessary evil if the ward boundaries are already fixed, and have been that way for 200, 160, and 130 years. The City of Hudson has done a particularly bad (euphemism) job of this.

      It is fundamentally irrational to maintain that boundary when you are breaching 5th Street where it actually exists.

      If we assume that the two members are joined at the hip, then the new proposal will cause the council president to have no voting power.

      There are certainly problems with multi-member wards, where the two aldermen are elected at partisan elections at the same time. But the current proposal does not address those.

      How exactly would you explain to the voters of Columbia County why Hudson has 5 supervisors on the Board of Supervisors, whom they have to pay $18,000 annually, when Hudson has fewer persons than Kinderhook?

      The town supervisors are the executive officer of the towns. The city supervisors are not responsible to the government of the City of Hudson in any way. It would be better if the mayor served on the board of supervisors.

      You are confused about what 'Abate v Mundt' said. It said that that deviation greater than 10% was justified by the relationship between town and county governments. When the deviation increased, the courts determined that the relationships did not justify such a large deviation (IIRC up over 20%).

      Further, in suburban Rockland County, residents identified with their villages and school districts more than their towns. In addition, Rockland County no longer permitted dual mandates.

    3. This is the wrong venue to get so deep into stuff that is very minor, and not really relevant as to what is before the voters, and their decision about it.

      I am confident that I fully understand the law on this (including the requirements for handling population allocations for split census blocks, and what happens if a line goes through a house (to the extent it does), and my professional reputation is on the line here, so I take it all very, very seriously. Nothing is more important to me than my reputation.

      There was a communication breakdown between the CBOE and the city, and a lot of stuff fell through the cracks. We are trying to fix all of that now, in one fell swoop, and our proposal does precisely that. Then the historical provenance of how all this horrible mess came to be, including folks voting in the wrong wards, becomes moot. Making stuff like this moot is the most elegant thing of all really, come to think of it. :)

      Hudson having 5 supervisors, while each of the towns must make do with but one, is an artifact of history, when Hudson had a much higher percentage of the county's population than it does now. One thing at a time.

    4. Steve,

      There is no necessity for splitting census blocks. It is a choice that was made by you (or your committee).

      It is a policy choice that is quite contrary to state policy choice. You know or should know that election districts must conform to ward boundaries. And you know that election district boundaries should be comprehensible by an ordinary decent citizen without specialized equipment (like a $4000 city survey).

      The CBOE and the city grossly fouled up (euphemism) because of the current split blocks. Their error is of such a magnitude it could call into question the legality of their current and future actions.

      Let's be quite clear:

      (1) The City of Hudson attributed population to the west of the Ward 4/5 boundary when it calculated the voting weights. The weight for Ward 5 is higher than it should have been, and for Ward 4 is less than it should have been. This error has yet to be corrected.
      (2) The CBOE forces voters who live east of the boundary to vote in Ward 4, and possibly places voters in the uncomfortable position of their voting being challenged, or the unconscionable situation of having their ballots being discarded.

      Back in 1885, the Firemen's Home did not exist. There were a couple of farms in the whole northern part of the city. Most people lived south of State Street. I'd have to check the census, but I'm not sure that there were any houses on Clinton Street, and relative few on Prospect Street and Washington Street.

      The 4th Ward had grown to such an extent it was divided in half. The west half from 3rd Street to 5th Street, mostly south of State Street became Ward 4. The rest to the east to 6th Street and 7th Street and off of Green Street became Ward 5.

      The line made sense then. It only makes sense now if you are going to keep all the ward boundaries. It is a really bad place for a ward boundary.

      You would not have to know the law about how to allocate split blocks (the actual text requires that it be "rational", your allocation might not be rational) or what happens if you draw a line through a house if you did not split blocks or draw a line through a house.

      One reason to have greater deviation would be to keep neighborhoods together. Your plan splits an apartment complex that has a large minority population. Why?

      If I lived on the north side of State Street, between 6th Street and Dodge Street, I'd wonder why the boundary jogs to Rope Alley for that short distance.

      "I heard some noise out back. I thought at first it was the garbage collector or some alley cats yowling, but I went out and it was the aldermen from the 3rd and 4th wards wrestling in a political turf battle. All four of them tag team style. It used to be simpler when we were in the 5th Ward forever, well since Grover Cleveland was president (first term)."

      The treasurer of your PAC is a member of the Board of Supervisors. He can be working on the elimination of the extraneous city supervisors now.

  5. jimrtex your reading of Reynolds v. Sims is incorrect in my view particularly in light of the line of cases it spawned. The system used by Hudson, the modified Bhanzhauf or whatever the spelling is, fails the Supreme Court's test as articulated in the line: it allocates votes based on voting power tests, not solely on population ratios and, as such, is unconstitutional.

    But you're missing the big picture I think: the real harm of the weighted voting system is that it makes the process opaque, and this opacity draws the outcomes into question. This, then, is the real harm: it tends to delegitimize the process. Once that has happened, the whole structure of self-government becomes shaky.

    The current system is neither constitutional, elegant, simple or readily comprehensible. What's proposed, on the other hand -- each Alderman wielding a single vote -- is constitutional, elegant, simple and harmonizes with most Americans' inherent sense of basic and fundamental fairness. Not to coin a phrase, but what is proposed is "fair and equal" -- what it replaces is neither.

    1. The SCOTUS requires that voting weights or multi-member apportionment be proportional to population, within 5% deviation (or to provide a justification for a larger variation).

      The SCOTUS has accepted all sorts of rationales for deviating from precise equality.

      But it is possible to have precise proportionality with weighted voting.

      There are constitutional problems with adjusting voting weights away from strict population proportionality, since it _ensures_ that there will be cases where representatives of a majority of the population can not form a majority of the representative body.

      If you reread Reynolds v Sims that was a particular concern of the SCOTUS.

      The voting weights I proposed were based on each alderman having a voting weight 1/5 of their population. For example an alderman from Ward 3, which has a population of 1076, would have 215 votes.

      This produces a deviation range of 0.43% (four times as close as the so-called equal districts).

      What can be more simpler or elegant than giving an alderman one vote for each person they represent? (or at least a proportional amount).

      What can be simpler than never changing ward boundaries. The 3rd Street ward boundary has been in place for two centuries. We can imagine that state senator Martin Van Buren sponsored the change at the behest of his Hudson constituents.

  6. Let's stipulate that:

    (1) The ward boundaries are as stated in the city charter;
    (2) Hudson through its agent the CBOE does not use the legal ward boundaries for its elections;
    (3) If through deliberate policy, it is possible in some circumstance for representatives of the majority of the people, to not carry a majority motion, then it violates equal protection;
    (4) The correct ward populations are 1:593; 2:1477; 3:1076; 4:801; and 5:2541;
    (5) That the ward populations used for calculating the current voting weights are so erroneous that it constitutes gross negligence and is a violation of equal protection.

    Then every action by the Common Council is legally suspect, because voters who did not live in a ward were permitted to vote in a ward, and the voting weights are wrong.

    This can be remedied by
    (1) Officially recognizing the correct ward populations (as was done following the 2000 Census);
    (2) Directing their agent, the CBOE to follow the correct ward boundaries
    in future elections;
    (a) Immediate correct the voter registration rolls;
    (b) Inform all voters who were moved into their correct (lawful) ward;
    (c) Correct maps on the CBOE website;
    (3) Adjust the voting weights to:
    1: 119;
    2: 295;
    3: 215;
    4: 160;
    5: 491;
    P: 238;

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. You're assuming Jim that the voting power test no longer has any legal relevance, and it just a population test. I don't agree with that. But we are getting really deep in the legal weeds here. The starting point from a legal standpoint, is that unlike for counties, there is no policy justification for Hudson using such a complex system, that gives a legal rationale for departing from what is obviously the fairest system, that by definition gives everyone substantially precise equality both in population and in voting power.

    Moreover, In our view, the legality of the present system is the last question to ask. The first question to ask is if the system is fair, comprehensible, easy to administer, and necessary and appropriate for Hudson. The answer is that it is not. Only if the weighted vote regime made some sense for Hudson, is it really necessary to then ask if the system is legal.

  8. Having just picked up on this thread, I don't risk, I know full well, that I repeat, in part, what John and Steve have said directly and clearly.

    Equal population wards represent a better, simpler, more democratic, and completely constitutional voting and apportionment scheme for Hudson. Equal population wards do not need to be argued either constitutionally or technically in the dense, convoluted fashion that weighted voting requires.

    Equal population wards are preferred by courts -- for a reason. Equal population wards are the way all cities vote and elect representatives because they provide easier access to the democratic process and democratic decision-making.

    Put another way, must Hudson voters accept a system of being governed -- weighted voting -- when four capable people in posts that run to more than 2800 words and 360 lines of argument could not find agreement on either the legal or technicalities questions? Is it legally required that the people of Hudson accept a system of voting and legislative apportionment that they cannot understand? No it is not. There is no earthly reason for Hudson’s governing to be consigned to the rigged system column. Open and accessible. Fair and equal -- that is all we seek.

    1. The judicial branch does not have the authority under separation of powers to have a preference to the manner in which legislatures apportion political power.

      Even when in 'Lopez Torres' they expressed disdain over the bozo method New York uses for judicial elections they did not rule it unconstitutional.

      Courts have rejected multi-member districts. Why does Hudson need 11 aldermen, let alone 5 supervisors?

      In 2015, more votes were cast for supervisor in Greenport and Chatham than for all five in Hudson. Explain to someone who lives in Kinderhook why Hudson should have five supervisors on the county board of supervisors, who they are stuck with paying for.

      Weighted voting is quite simple. Each representative gets one vote for each person they represent.

      If equal-population districts are simple, why don't the districts you are proposing have equal populations?

      If it is so simple, why do you have to use alleys, and swim across Underhill Pond after traipsing through someone's house with your boundary?

  9. Steve,

    (1) We do not know that voting power actually exists.
    (2) If it does exist, we don't know whether the Banzhaf Power Index measures it.
    (3) Making any adjustment away from strict population-based voting weights necessarily causes situations where representatives of the majority of the population are not a majority of the (supposedly) representative body.
    (4) Adjustments of the type made by Dr. Papayanopoulos can be seen as being made for the _purpose_ of denying majority rule.
    (5) It is not necessary use such adjustments and achieve congruence between population and voting power (assuming that such exists and the Banzhaf Power Index measures it).

    I provided my voting weights for the corrected ward population, and you know how to calculate the Banzhaf Power Index and how to measure the deviation.

    If you were acting as a matter of principle, you would also be seeking to have the voting weights for the Columbia Board of Supervisors reformed, and the supernumerary Hudson positions eliminated.

    While from your point of view the legality of the present system is the last question to ask, it was the first question you sought to answer on your campaign website. A less knowledgeable person would be lead to infer that the current system is not legal.

    The policy justification for a weighted voting system is that it does not require continued redrawing of voting district boundaries, which leads to gerrymandering and arbitrary divisions of communities, whether they be neighborhoods, towns, or counties.

    I am not necessarily advocating for the status quo, but I do believe that the status quo should be administered in a legal fashion.

    If the system is unfair, incomprehensible, hard to administer, the first question to ask what makes it so, and then to explore alternatives.

  10. There has been much discussion whether the current weighted voting system used in Hudson is a violation of equal protection.

    Leaving aside the issues of grossly incompetent estimates of ward populations; and whether voting weights can ever be other than strictly proportional to population, then:

    If unheimlich, Steve Dunn, Carole Osterink, John Friedman, or Don Moore were to file an (OMOV) equal protection claim, they would be determined to not have standing, because the aldermen from the wards in which they reside have a larger share of the total voting weight than the share of the population of the wards.

    They might feel that they are injured. The courts would say that they were not.

    Alderman John Friedman and Supervisor Don Moore are in a position to correct the grossly incompetent ward population estimates that the current voting weights are based on.