Amidst all of the hand wringing about the Presidential election, both its process and outcome, we can note that Hudson conducted a little experiment in democratic direct action that at the local level will likely produce interesting positive results in the future.
The recent report1 by law students from Hofstra that addresses in part the weighted voting system in use for the city’s Common Council has engendered considerable discussion. The Register Star’s John Mason offered up, “Report questions city’s weighted-vote system”2. Our local radio station WGXC held a discussion between Victor Mendolia and Common Council President Don Moore on the topic3
.Much of the discussion has focused on the somewhat abstract questions of the constitutionality of a system that appears to violate the “one person one vote” principle. The issues become crystal clear once you put numbers into play and see how this creates a pernicious environment for governing the city.
Hudson Population by Ward (2010)
First Ward: 770
Second Ward: 1,281.
Third Ward: 1,142.
Fourth Ward: 725.
Fifth Ward: 2,485
Weighted Voting Power by Alderman
President, Common Council – Don Moore – 190
Alderman, 1st Ward – David Marston – 95
Alderman, 1st Ward – Nicholas Haddad – 95
Alderman, 2nd Ward – Abdus S. Miah – 185
Alderman, 2nd Ward – Tiffany Garriga – 185
Alderman, 3rd Ward – John K. Friedman – 180
Alderman, 3rd Ward – Henry A. Haddad – 180
Alderman, 4th Ward – Alexis Keith – 95
Alderman, 4th Ward – Ohrine Stewart – 95
Alderman, 5th Ward – Robert J. Donahue, Sr. – 364
Alderman, 5th Ward – Bartholomew F. Delaney Jr. – 364
Total votes = 2,028. A simple majority is 1,015.4
The votes of Donahue and Delaney constitute 72% of a simple majority, yet they are only 18% of the membership of the council.
A Little Role Play
Now just imagine yourself as an Alderman sitting in the room with the ten other members of the Common Council. How much attention would you pay to the opinions of a person with 95 votes compared to a person with 185 or 364 votes knowing that you need 1,015 votes for simple majority? It is obvious that the opinions of Donahue and Delaney are far more important in the practical matter of passing legislation than Marston, Haddad, Keith, or Stewart. In fact, Delaney, Donahue, and any two of the Alderman from 2nd or 3rd Wards or the Common Council President can pass legislation. In a very real way the collective opinions of Donahue and Delaney on any matter pretty much set a boundary for what policies might get approved.5
This makes a mockery of the rules we presume when we enter a democratic institution. This is why one person one vote is important.
- http://goo.gl/r5XGyj accessed 09252014 4:20pm [↩]
- http://goo.gl/e4QDXw accessed 09232014 8:31pm [↩]
- The weighted voting system is arcane in the extreme. There are actually three different panels of weighted voting dependent on whether a simple, 2/3, or 3/4 majority is required to pass a motion. And there are more details about what constitutes a quorum under varying conditions. Here is the source: http://goo.gl/rvgp7y accessed 09252014 4:04pm [↩]
As an aside, applying this logic to the county, where the weighted system legitimately rules, it is obvious that the citizens of Hudson would be better served by having a single Supervisor who would have a very large block of votes rather than distributed across five Supervisors. [↩]