Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Everything Must Change

More than forty years have passed since the City of Hudson adopted the weighted vote system for the Common Council. When he took office again in 1974 (he had served three previous nonconsecutive terms as mayor, 1962-1965 and 1968-1969), Mayor Samuel T. Wheeler identified "reapportioning voting districts" as one of the primarily goals of his administration. The Register-Star reported that Wheeler considered the voting strength among the five election wards "totally out of proportion." (At that time, the ten aldermen and the Common Council president each cast one vote.) It was Wheeler's suggestion that the City seek advice from the Columbia County Board of Supervisors, which had adopted a weighted vote system in 1972.

Following the example of the county, the City of Hudson sought the expertise of mathematician Dr. Lee Papayanopoulos, who offered this advice: "Weighted voting can indeed be implemented in Hudson City. The traditional weighted voting analysis used in reapportioning many New York counties (including Columbia, 1972) is usually applied under circumstances of singular representation. Your present form of local representation deviates from the norm since two councilmen are elected from each ward. This necessitates a modification of the traditional method of analysis."

Hudson went ahead and adopted the weighted vote--and became, in addition to being the only city in the United States to employ the weighted voted, the only municipality requiring a hybrid method of analysis because two aldermen represented each ward. Through a complicated process, incomprehensible to most, Papayanopoulos calculated the weighted vote system for the Hudson Common Council that was adopted in 1975 and has been doing it ever since, most recently in 2013. Unfortunately for Hudson and every other legislative body that relied on him to recalculate the weighted vote after every decennial census, Papayanopoulos died, at the age of 75, in March 2015. His obituary, published by Rutgers University, where he had been a professor in the graduate school since 1974, speaks of his work with "weighted voting reapportionment."
Dr. Papayanopoulos completed his Doctor of Engineering Science in Operations Research degree at Columbia under the supervision of Dr. Edward Ignall. His thesis investigated properties of weighted voting reapportionment, and his fundamental work in this area was the first application of mathematical programming to political science. His interest in this area dated back to 1967 when he worked at IBM when the landmark "one-man-one-vote" decision of the U.S. Supreme Court prompted federal, state and local legislatures to redistrict state and congressional districts. His work has impacted the governance of many localities as well as the representation of millions of voters over a span of nearly half a century.
It is not clear if Papayanopoulos had a protege able and willing to take over his consultancy in governance metrics, but we in Hudson have another alternative, the same one that was open to the folks back in 1974: realigning ward boundaries to create population districts of equal size. It's pretty straightforward and easy to understand and requires no high-level mathematical calculations.

For those who want to learn more about the Fair & Equal campaign to achieve the standard of one person, one vote without the arcane machinations of the weighted vote, there is a community conversation tomorrow, August 10, at 6:30 p.m., at Peter Jung Fine Art, 512 Warren Street.


  1. The problem with the Fair & Equal proposal is the conceit that it is fair and equal. Some 1200 folks in each ward are voting for 2 people to represent them, but several hundred people in each ward (maybe more) are going to be disappointed by those representatives and, most probably, by those representatives' votes on the council. Is that fair? I appreciate the work of the Fair & Equal proponents but not the assumption that dividing the Wards into equal numbers is, by definition, fair and equal. The new demographic data begins to bring to light the nuance behind the proposed divisions, but we need more information -- income, wealth, and education data is important as well -- in order to know whether individuals in these wards will in fact be fairly represented. --pm

    1. Yes, but the name of the group highlights a situation that is demonstrably unfair and unequal.

      The first half of your comment plays on the fact that representative democracy is not the same as direct democracy.

      If it's possible someone exists who doesn't know the difference, you make out Fair and Equal as being false for seeming to promise a new form of government. I wonder if anyone else took the group's name and mission to be a "conceit" implying direct democracy?

      Also, "the new demographic data" is not new. The demographics were presented in a ward by ward breakdown in The Register-Star in late June.

  2. It's called "the majority rules" when an alderman is elected. If you don't want people to be "disappointed", then why don't you petition for a ballot resolution for city-wide aldermen with no wards, or a New England town meeting structure.

    I fail to see any relevance when delineating new ward boundaries based on equal population that takes into account the socio-economic factors you seem to be so obsessed with.

    What's your real motivation?

  3. I'm not getting into the name-calling business with you boys (though it is worth pointing out that for folks who claim to want to make government fairer and more equal, you're not very open to other peoples' opinions.) As I have said from the beginning of this process, I am all for abandoning the weighted vote system, but would have preferred that the petition makers not include the new ward boundaries as part of it. My motivation? It's a bad idea to include both in a referendum. And I have explained many times why: ward boundaries are of such importance that they constitute a separate issue -- or should! -- and so, from a political point of view, should not have been linked to the weighted vote question. I would have preferred a healthy, transparent, and inclusive debate about the ward rejiggering. Based on my reading of the reports about a recent Common Council meeting that took up the issue, it would seem that I am not alone in thinking that ward boundaries are a big issue. But my point is and has been that weighted vote and ward boundaries are two very different issues. Perhaps the F&E folks can convince me that their boundaries are fair and equal (I hope I can make it to tonight's meeting) and perhaps the referendum will sail to victory. But taking the ad hominem tack is certainly not the best way to this voter's heart. cheers, --pm

    1. Sorry, but you're not gonna side-step the spirit in which you launched your many "opinions" when you were doing your level best to impugn the motives of the members of the F&E group. (If you want a catalogue, you know I'll be happy to provide one.)

      Your first of many comments on the matter, at least at Gossips, was in mid-June. You've waited until August 10th to share your first reasonable objection to the proposal. So be it, but on which specific occasions did you explain, "many times," the REASONS you were opposed to a change of ward boundaries, rather than merely stating that you were against the idea?

      For someone who's written so much on this topic without explaining his actual opposition, you'll now need to defend what you've written above by providing examples in which the "weighted vote and ward boundaries" are detachable issues.

    2. I'm a citizen and I get to vote and I will vote. That's all I owe you, "scary." And since you choose to hide behind the veil of anonymity I can call you an idiot without even being guilty of an ad hominem :) --pm

  4. Just to clarify: I have been told that Unheimlich and Observer are not part of the F&E team, so my comments about their ad hominems do not apply to the F&E folks; in fact, I've had nothing but civil, substantive, and constructive discussions with the members of the F&E team. And I do hope folks come to the meeting tonight. --pm

  5. Cut out the hackneyed "woe is me" ad hominem deny and counterattack b.s. tactic and "you boys" crap please.

    I'm not attacking you. I just don't understand what you are getting at. I'm flummoxed by your objection to ward boundaries based on equal population. Why do you want the boundaries to be based on demographics? Why the suspicion?

  6. Dear Observer, why I bother to respond to insulting and anonymous people is beyond me, but.... ward boundaries are very important because individuals live in them; individuals with different opinions about how their town should be run. And the votes of those individual elect just two people to represent them on the Council that runs the town. So, what would happen if boundaries were drawn such that each had 15 percent African American voters? Each ward could have the same number of voters but because of the way the boundaries were drawn, African Americans would have a hard time electing an African American to represent them, with the result that there would be no African American on the Common Council. I exaggerate to make the point, but it is an extremely important point. Ward boundaries matter. Plug in any interest group -- rich people are an interest group as are poor people -- and you can see why ward boundaries matter, regardless of whether the wards have the same number of people in them. From what I can see so far the F&E team has done a laudable job trying to mitigate the potential unfairness of the ward boundaries. I just think that ward boundaries are an incredibly important issue in a representative democracy -- a very political issue, in the best sense of the word political -- and thus the question needs a full and open airing. Hope this helps. --pm

    1. Right, so you're speaking in the most general historical terms which actually have no application for this proposal. And that's thanks to the laudable efforts of the Fair and Equal group.

      Let me put it another way in the event you're confused by my idiocy.

      The point which you admittedly "exaggerate" above actually has no application here. None. And that's because the objectionable result of your scenario was studiously avoided by the F&E group.

      And yet, the ugly scenario still gets its undeserved airtime, thanks to people whose greatest contribution to the discussion, so far, is carping premised on hypothetical generalities.

      Can you see my (idiotic) point? After nearly two months of this fascinating back-and-forth, we're left wondering "Where's the beef?"

      Put another way, what is the content of this criticism which can justify such a facile and seemingly wanton destructiveness?

      Signed, Anonymous.

  7. I keep giving you the beef and you keep ignoring it. I keep answering your questions and you keep ignoring the answers. Boundaries matter. They are the essence of our representative democracy. Tell me they aren't. Tell me they don't matter. Instead of simply attacking me, answer me. Mine are substantive questions; yours remain anonymous, ephemeral, and non-responsive. --pm

    1. My answer is the same as your answer: that your exaggerated example doesn't apply in this case.

      So why air it at all?

      That's a direct question: Why on earth would anyone stoop to overt racial pandering in order to make the "boundaries matter" argument, particularly when the Fair and Equal group did an amazing job addressing such concerns already?

      Your example doesn't apply, so it's just mischievous. It's not an issue, period.

      In nearly two months of making your case, all you've said so far is that "boundaries matter."

      Um, yeah, they do ....

      What you may need is a better metaphor for your position (whatever that turns out to be), and preferably one which applies to the particulars at hand.

      For example, precisely how has the Fair and Equal proposal run roughshod over your "boundaries matter" argument? (other than its obvious threat to the careers of individual politicians).

      If you can finally explain the peril of the specific proposal to your general "boundaries matter" argument (after two months!), then I'll acknowledge the beef.

      But now that I'm reading Observer's comment, below, things might go a bit quicker if you address his excellent points.

      Is your opposition really about quotas? Yes, that must be it!

      (Do you see that nobody understands whatever it is you're arguing?)

      - Anonymous

    2. No, you wouldn't see, because you suppose you've presented an actual argument.

      We all know that boundaries matter, but what we don't understand is why you believe that is such a concern with this particular proposal.

      You've had two months to explain yourself, and now you don't see. Sounds about right ...

  8. I'm not insulting you. Let me be very clear about that. On this blog we are all allowed to present and remain anonymous. There is no sin in that. In fact, the structure in place invites lively debate and discussion.
    So you want African-American representation on the common council as a prerequisite for your support of abolishing the weighted vote? Then why not require that in the city's charter: a race-based mandate? That doesn't sound too unconstitutional does it?
    Do we also save space for Joe blue-collar, a trust fund hipster, a well-heeled gay man or woman, a committed dog park advocate, a hospital worker, a Warren Street restauranteur and a Bangladeshi bodega owner?
    Why preserve seats at the expense of population-based ward boundaries?
    Is the structure of democracy meant to insure quixotic outcomes designed to satisfy what you term "a very political issue"?
    Or do we just all suspiciously shake our heads in abject apathy and allow the power brokers of the 5th Ward, and the powerful big money interests behind them, to continue to dominate Hudson's government?

  9. So you like the current proposal?

    1. Answering questions with questions. Not cool.

  10. Yes. I like the current proposal that creates new ward boundaries with nearly equal populations in each ward based on the last US Census.

    A nuance that has not been brought up is that there are a number of Hudson registered voters in the current First and Third wards who are NOT counted in the US Census as residents of the city, since Hudson is a secondary residence for these registered voters, and they are counted at their primary residences, which are most likely in Manhattan or Brooklyn. So, actually the "richer" wards may end up with less representation, as is the case now.

    1. An interesting point, but I'd be careful not to dignify the fellow's obsession with income distribution, by which he'll derail the proposal by exciting class resentment.

      Now that our interlocutor has tacitly acknowledged the "demographic" wisdom of the plan (by not answering the charge that his "exaggerated" example was gratuitous and divisive), we are left to consider a system in which each Alderman will represent his or her constituents in equal proportion to the residents of every other ward.

      That's as level as you can get, though some will continue to carp for their own undisclosed reasons.

    2. An interesting point, but I'd be careful not to dignify anyone's obsession with income distribution, by which the proposal may be derailed by other means.

      As with the exaggerations in the earlier example, there are all kinds of populist gains to be had from the excitement of class resentment.

      But now that the "demographic" wisdom of the proposal has been tacitly acknowledged (though not openly admitted), we're left to consider a system in which each Alderman will represent his or her constituents in equal proportion to the residents of every other ward.

      Without changing human nature itself, that's as level as anything can be.

    3. Thanks Observer. I'm glad we're on a parallel track here.

      Actually, I had some editing help on that comment from someone else who wishes to remain anonymous.

    4. Well said, except if you consider reality! The whole point of America is "e pluribus unum" -- from the mamy.... the notion that you can create equal representations with a butcher knife is quite nutty, a denial of the amazing individuality of our citizens. We should take the time to find out who they are, what their interests are, and what they believe in....

    5. What, are you back on the "who they are" bandwagon?

      In the context of your earlier comments, this comment has a subtext. The last sentence carries your meaning.

      Either you're acting the populist, inviting anyone to weigh in providing they have no understanding of what it means to live in a representative republic (the first half of your comment), or you're still attempting to expose the hidden interests of those behind the proposal (the last part of your comment).

      I think you're doing both, as you have all along.

      Sure, you'll deny that your still calling the Fair and Equal folks "intellectually bankrupt," as you did earlier, but I read this latest comment in terms of the earlier and ongoing suspicion about people's motives, and I see the same arguments have gone slightly underground.

      Who are the F&E group? What do they really want? How are they fooling people? Are there majority and minority issues here? Can I whip up excitement about all of these issues, without actually understanding what's required to solve the technical problems involved?

      Why else would you use hyperbole like "butcher knife," and then after two months of commenting still offer readers NO ALTERNATIVE?

      You need to make a positive argument, which would be your first, if you want me off your back.

    6. Still no positive proposals?

      After two months of criticism, you must have SOME idea of what you'd like to see instead.

    7. Despite your selective reading -- I have not only made many proposals -- some of them even prior to F&E -- but have (and have had) a clear idea of what I'd like to see instead: a community authored ward boundary system and 10 wards with one council member per ward.

    8. Ah yes, your one idea. But you are correct that you'd stated it and that I'd forgotten it.

      But after everything you've written above, it seems you've given up on your own idea already.

      Look above, and it's all criticism of the hard work of others. Is it so necessary to impugn others and their efforts? (Seriously, a "butcher knife"?)

      Instead, why not promote your own idea without disparaging my neighbors and their ideas. It would be terrific for community relations, and then, maybe, there can be an actual discussion.

      - Anonymous

    9. My "one idea" happens to be the most important issue in the debate -- by my standards. And I am promoting it. You and Observer are the only ones I can see who feel the pin prick as a butcher knife, but Hey!, you're entitled. And F&E folks are perfectly entitled to their petition. And though I would not have done it that way, I certainly applaud their efforts. Except for my early surprise at having signed a petition that included both weighted voting and redrawn wards (and my disparaging comment about the fellow that got me to sign the petition), I think I've been fairly civil. But Hey, I'm sure you can find other disparaging remarks. In any case, I think the F&E folks are big people and know the challenges of their effort. And I wish them luck. --peter meyer

  11. My Google has decided to call me "Pete." Not sure why, but the "Pete" above -- and here -- is Peter Meyer. --pm