Wednesday, November 4, 2015

One Person, One Vote?

Turnout in this year's municipal elections in Takoma Park was consistent with historical trends - high in Wards 1, 2, and 3 that have many single family home owners, low in Wards 4 and 5 populated by many tenants of apartment buildings, and a little bit higher in Ward 6, which has a mix of both groups.  For the record, the unofficial totals for the city council seat in each ward were 748 in Ward 1, 482 in Ward 2, 536 in Ward 3, 221 in Ward 4, 158 in Ward 5, and 302 in Ward 6.  Wards 1 and 6 kind of had races, but most of the seats were essentially uncontested.

I suppose that one could claim that these voting patterns, especially in municipal elections, are the results of housing and socioeconomic factors and are in some sense inevitable due to the current development and geography of the city.  On the other hand, the allocation of some areas of the city to wards appears to be affected by other factors as seen here.  Take for example my former residence of Lee Avenue, a small street in the middle of town connecting Carroll and Maple Avenues just up the hill from the municipal building.  I lived there in an apartment building that had gone condo but then the housing bubble burst before they could sell all of the units so the development company rented out the few remaining apartments to people including me.  By the end of my time there, the condo owners were suing the development company for supposedly not following through on all of their commitments and depleting the building's reserve fund, which seems to be almost an inevitable occurrence in that process.  Anyway, some of Lee Avenue, specifically the single family homes, is in Ward 3, but my building and I assume that the rest of the apartment buildings on the street are in Ward 4.

I'm not exactly sure what the purpose of this fairly complicated allocation of these residences to wards was, but it would appear that people wanted the houses to go to the ward for homeowners and the apartment buildings to go to the ward for tenants.  Personally, I would have thought that people would have wanted to do the opposite and to encourage as many diversity as is possible in the wards, subject to geographic constraints.  I don't think that anyone had nefarious intentions.  Perhaps the reasoning is that this arrangement ensures that tenants will have a council member who will represent them and their interests.  Still, the approach seems misguided to me.  Wards 4 and 5 will still often be represented on council by homeowners who live in those wards, for various reasons, and those wards often find it difficult to find people to serve on city committees on the ward's behalf.  Moreover, this arrangement seems inconsistent with the general principle of "one person, one vote," given the voting disparities by ward noted above.  One could argue that a vote in Ward 5 is worth approximately 4 times as much as a vote in some of the other wards in terms of electing a council member, but I think that the more obvious implication is that wards with more voters are seen as more important and thus influential, given the greater likelihood that their residents will vote in elections, serve on committees, speak before council, and so on.      

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