Mayor blunts call to sue county over vote districts
HUDS0N–The City Charter divides the city into five wards and describes their boundaries. The Columbia County Board of Elections divides Hudson into five election districts meant to follow the lines of the wards. But the ward and election district boundaries differ in some places, affecting 100 or more voters by one estimate. Last month the issue came to a head when the Common Council demanded the city go to court to force the county to redraw election district boundaries to match ward boundaries. Two days later Mayor William Hallenbeck Jr. vetoed the resolution calling for the lawsuit.
District lines affect voter ballot choices for candidates for aldermen and county supervisors. In addition, the weighted vote assigned to each member of the Common Council are generally supposed to reflect the population of election district the alderman or supervisor represents, according to Common Council President Don Moore (D).
Discrepancies between the wards and current election districts include:
- The triangle between Columbia Street, Columbia Turnpike, and Paul Avenue. The election district map puts it in the 3rd Ward, and the charter puts it in the 5th Ward
- An area roughly between 5th Street, Short Street /Harry Howard Avenue, Underhill Pond and Prospect Street. The election map puts it in the 5th Ward, the charter puts it in the 4th
- The Firemen’s Home and four lots (three with houses on them) between Harry Howard Avenue and Underhill Pond. The election map puts the Firemen’s Home totally in the 4th Ward and the four lots totally in the 5th Ward; the City charter divides all of them between the 4th and 5th wards
- 7th Street Park. The election map has it totally in the 5th Ward. The city Charter divides it between the 3rd and 5th wards.
Although some of the discrepancies may have existed for decades, the Common Council’s July 21 resolution urged the city to “immediately” bring a legal proceeding against Columbia County to compel the county “to enforce the ward boundaries established in the Hudson City Charter and Code.”
Before the vote Alderman Bart Delaney (NOP-5th Ward) said he had discussed holding a referendum on the issue, saying, “Let the people decide.”
“It’s a great relation we have with Columbia County, we’re going to sue them.” said Alderman John Friedman (D-3rd Ward.)
Nevertheless, Mr. Delaney and Mr. Friedman voted for the resolution along with Aldermen Henry Haddad (D-3rd Ward), Nick Haddad (D-1st Ward), Mr. Moore, and Rick Rector (D-1st Ward). Voting against it were Aldermen Robert Donahue (R-5th Ward), Tiffany Garriga (D-2nd Ward), Alexis Keith (D-4th Ward), Abdus Miah (D-2nd Ward), and Ohrine Stewart (D-4th Ward).
Mr. Moore said that the current election district boundaries are a mistake and the county Board of Elections should change them to reflect the City Charter.
Mayor Hallenbeck’s July 23 veto statement acknowledged reasons for the resolution, saying that on several occasions “decisions were made to arbitrarily change ward identities of many voters by having them…vote in wrong wards.” But he said this was not the time to fix the errors.
The mayor said that people who have voted for years in one of the disputed areas would face significant “stress and confusion” if their wards were changed just prior to an upcoming election. He also said that ward boundaries have been brought to the attention of the public before and a 2003 proposal to add a sixth ward was not adopted.
Mayor Hallenbeck (R) suggested the “all of us need to take time to investigate” the matter of how the boundaries had changed.
Mr. Moore’s position differs with mayor’s. He said that investigating when, how and why the discrepancies occurred would unnecessarily delay actually doing something about the problem.
But the mayor did propose his own solution, saying the Common Council “could consider” solving the problem simply by changing the ward boundaries “to reflect where …voters currently vote.”
The county Board of Elections has no official position on this matter, because the two Election Commissioners—Democrat Virginia Martin and Republican Jason Nastke—“have different opinions,” Ms. Martin said. But in separate phone conversations July 27 both commissioners indicated that the county does not decide where to put the boundaries; it just follows the city’s wishes.
“The City of Hudson has informed us that the boundaries we have been using are for some reason incorrect. It would go back to some event probably a long time ago. Then, the City of Hudson apparently told us to do election districts one way; now the city has told us that that way is inaccurate,” Ms. Martin said.
She said that the county Board of Elections is “bound by law to make sure that voters living in wards as defined by the city are registered with us in their correct wards,” adding later by email, “The board is statutorily required to respect ward boundaries, and election districts must be wholly within a ward. Therefore, it is clear to me that the board must move the voters that we currently have in the 4th to the 5th, and the voters currently in the 3rd to the 5th.”
Mr. Nastke disagreed. The current lines have been that way “for eons,” he said, and advised against “rushing decisions.”
“It affects potentially more than 100 voters,” Mr. Nastke said. “The city needs to work it out themselves…. The city should decide itself what its boundaries should be in a transparent process, open to all.”
Mr. Nastke also said that original reason for wards was to give a voice to minorities who might not be seen if merged into the whole.