Thursday, June 2, 2022

Nothing Is Ever Easy

Not long ago in Hudson, members of the Common Council had weighted votes. The aldermen representing the Fifth Ward had votes that were more than three times more powerful than the votes of the aldermen representing the First or Fourth wards, and every vote in the Council was followed by the sound of an adding machine as the city clerk calculated the value of the votes cast to determine the outcome. Every ten years, when the weighted vote had to be recalibrated after the decennial census, the city relied, as it had since 1974, on a professor at Rutgers University, whose multisyllabic Greek name sounded a wee bit like an incantation, to work the arcane machinations required to determine how the weighted vote should be adjusted to achieve the bedrock principle of American democracy: "one person, one vote."

In 2016, a grassroots effort known as Fair & Equal forced a referendum that eliminated the weighted vote, abandoning the ward boundaries that had existed for more than a century and creating five new wards of equal population. As a consequence, many of the ward boundaries changed dramatically. Most of the Third Ward became part of  the First Ward, and the Fourth Ward gained parts of the Second and Fifth wards.

With wards of equal population, it is necessary every ten years, after the decennial census, to assess the population numbers in each ward and adjust the ward boundaries as needed to ensure that the population of the five wards remains equal. The 2020 census showed that the First Ward had gained population, and the Fourth Ward had lost population, so the boundaries needed to be adjusted to move a few people out of the First Ward and add a few people to the Fourth Ward to make the five wards equipopulous once again.

In March, the Legal Committee of the Common Council--Margaret Morris (First Ward), Theo Anthony (Fourth Ward), Art Frick (First Ward), Mohammed Rony (Second Ward), Ryan Wallace (Third Ward)--decided to pursue changes that achieved equal population among wards with the least change in the boundaries. A chunk of the First Ward, bounded by Seventh Street to the west, Worth Avenue to the east, Warren Street to the north, and Union Street to the south, would shift from the First Ward to the Third Ward, subtracting 75 people from the population of the First Ward and adding them to the population of the Third Ward. A chunk of the Third Ward, bounded by Sixth Street to the east, Dodge Street to the west, Rope Alley to the north, and State Street to the south, would shift from the Third Ward to the Fourth Ward, subtracting 40 people from the population of the Third Ward and adding them to the population of the Fourth Ward. In this process, the First Ward would lose 75 people, the Fourth Ward would gain 40 people, and the Third Ward would have a net gain of 35 people, and in the end, the city would achieve its goal of maintaining five equipopulous wards.

In May, Morris, who chairs the Legal Committee, analyzed the racial and ethnic makeup of the affected wards to determine what impact the proposed ward adjustments might have. That information can be found here and demonstrates that there would be virtually none. The one casualty of the proposed changes is that Art Frick, who is now a councilmember representing the First Ward, lives on upper Union Street, in the block that would move from the First Ward to the Third Ward, so in 2023, if he wanted to remain on the Council, he would have to run in the Third Ward. 

All in all, the process of maintaining wards of equal population seems, to this observer at least, pretty straightforward--much more so than the hocus pocus and divination attendant on recalibrating the weighted vote. Still the process is getting lots of criticism, particularly from the Hudson City Democratic Committee (HCDC).

On May 31, the Common Council held a special meeting to consider the issue of amending the ward boundaries. There were two proposed local laws before them: one to change the deadline for reapportionment; the other to adopt the amended ward boundaries that have been proposed by the Legal Committee. The Council voted unanimously to lay the first proposed law on their desks. The second did not fare as well.

Council president Tom DePietro said, "We still don't have a lot of information." Morris said she didn't know how much more information was needed. Frick said, "The public has no knowledge of the exact addresses." Later in the meeting, Dorothy Heyl, treasurer of the HCDC, scolded Morris for not providing the addresses, which she, Heyl, had requested. Rony, who is a member of the Legal Committee, explained that in their decision making they didn't consider addresses, only population numbers, which made the process impartial. 

DePietro complained, "We are seeing the end data, but we have not seen how that was arrived at." Morris argued that it was possible for people to re-create the process, but DePietro insisted, "They need it done for them." Frick added, "Everyone needs to come up with the same conclusion," and suggested there be a public meeting "to demonstrate exactly how the proposed amendments to the ward boundaries were arrived at." Verity Smith, vice chair of the HCDC, called for "a very transparent demonstration of the process." She also insisted there be a better map, one that included addresses.

Last night at the Legal Committee meeting, the issue was taken up again. Amending the ward boundaries is subject to a mandatory referendum, and the deadline for getting something on the ballot for November is sometime in August. Morris, who chairs the Legal Committee, announced there was one agenda item: defining next steps in getting the Council to agree on the ward boundary amendments to be presented in the referendum. 

Many of the same issues discussed on Tuesday were brought up again on Wednesday. Wallace, who represents the Third Ward, reported that he had done his due diligence "to see who moved to the Third Ward," using addresses provided by city assessor Cheryl Kaszluga, and suggested someone else needed to do it for the Fourth Ward. There was discussion of whether or not the addresses needed to be published or if a map would be sufficient. There was also discussion of how and when to notify affected voters: before the Council agreed on the amended boundaries; before the referendum; or, assuming the referendum passes, before the changes take effect. There was a question of how the information would be disseminated--on the City website? on the mayor's Facebook page? The representatives of the HCDC offered their assistance, but DePietro said the HCDC should not be involved in the planning process. 

Anthony referred to the census as a "display of power" and spoke of "wielding it in responsible ways," asserting there had been "a lot of foul play with the census in the past couple of years." When Morris suggested his concerns really didn't apply to the small changes being proposed for Hudson, Smith rebuked her. "What Theo said was very relevant, and I am horrified that Margaret dismissed it." Smith made reference to a letter submitted by the HCDC requesting a link to the data and a statement of the methodology "so the public can attempt to replicate the results."

In the end, it was decided that the Legal Committee would put together a presentation that included this information:
  • Why the changes are being made
  • Addresses affected
  • Polling places (The polling place for those voters shifting from the Third Ward to the Fourth Ward will change from St. Mary's Academy to 401 State Street.)
  • Schedule for enacting the changes
  • Methodology 
  • Source of the data
  • New map of the wards
Before Morris called for a motion to adjourn the meeting, which had gone on for an hour and a quarter, Wallace complained, "This meeting should have been done in twenty minutes. Stop wasting my time."

1 comment:

  1. For goodness sakes, a map outlining new boundaries should be enough. People can figure out where they live.