What Is A "Ward System" For Town Council Elections, And How It Could Impact Blooming Grove...
The following is a summarized version of the Blooming Grove "Ward System" detail page on this website, with question (13) and my personal comments (14) removed. I provided this summary page for those who want to share this link instead of the more "subjective" detailed link I originally wrote in February 2016, where I discussed in detail why I am against the "Ward System" for Blooming Grove. I can appreciate that some people prefer a summarized version.
(1) What is the Ward System?
The Ward System is one of the two ways, according to New York State Law, that Town Council members can be elected in a Town.
In a Ward System, based on New York State Town Law, there can either be 4 or 6 wards, each represented by a Council member to the Town Board.
Under a Ward System, each Council member is elected from a defined geographic area called a “ward” within the Town.
Only the residents of a specific ward can vote for the Council candidates running for office in that ward.
Candidates for the Council seat of a specific ward must be residents of that ward.
All Ward seats would be up for election every 2 years; the same odd-number years that the Town Supervisor election occurs.
These Wards must be near-equal in population (within a variance of 10% of the average population for each Ward), and each Ward must have contiguous (connected) Election Districts.
(2) How is this different from the system we have now?
The current electoral system used by 918 of the 932 towns in New York State, including Blooming Grove, is the "At-Large System". That means those council members are elected Town wide. This means all the voters in the Town can vote for all the candidates seeking the office of Town Council.
(3) How many towns are using the Ward System in New York State?
Of New York State's 932 towns, only 14 towns, listed in Appendix 1, utilize the "Ward System" as the way to elect members of their Town Councils.
10 towns were using a "Ward System" as of the year 2000. 4 more towns have adopted it in the 21st century. The most recent town to adopt it was Clarkstown in November 2015.
Most of these towns have significant differences to Blooming Grove. Many are quite larger in population. Others are much larger in square miles.
(4) Is the ward system permitted in Blooming Grove?
Yes, Blooming Grove does meet the state law population threshold (over 10,000 residents) which allows it to implement a ward system if it wants to switch to that electoral process for its Town Council.
(5) How can Blooming Grove be changed to a Ward System for Town Council elections?
A proposition to create a Ward System for Town Council elections in Blooming Grove will need to be on the election ballot for the town voters to approve, in an election prior to the Wards being created and used for the following Town wide election.
One way for this proposition to be on the election process is if the Town Board decides it is in the best interest of the Town to pass a resolution to change to a Ward System. The other way is for a petition process by a minority of a town voters; the petition methodology in other towns has often been controversial and failed most times in the past.
(6) Is the "Ward System" proposition the only one that citizens can be asked to vote on?
If the creators of a "Ward System" ballot proposition for Blooming Grove wanted to keep 4 council members in a Ward System, this is the only ballot proposition that would be required.
If the creators of a "Ward System" ballot proposition for Blooming Grove wanted to go to 6 Ward members for the Town Council, they will need a separate ballot proposition to change the number of council seats from 4 to 6.
It is possible that only 1 of the 2 propositions might be approved by voters. This is what occurred in Clarkstown in their 2015 ballot propositions. Starting in 2017 they will now have a Ward System with 4 Wards. They were trying to get 6 Wards (and 6 Council member seats) created, for their larger population, which is more than 4 times the size of Blooming Grove.
It is also possible a "Ward System" ballot proposition can be defeated, but that the number of "At-Large" Council seats might increase to 6, if two propositions were on the ballot at the same time.
(7) How are the individual wards established?
If a proposition is passed by the voters, the Orange County Board of Elections is responsible to draw a map and establish the specific wards.
I believe I can estimate the likely Wards that will be developed if Blooming Grove either approved the "4 Ward" or "6 Ward" system before the 2020 US Census. These details are listed on Appendix #2.
(8) When would a new "Ward System" take effect?
If a Ward System is approved, it takes place for election purposes at the next Town election cycle after the "Ward System" proposition ballot is approved by voters, as long as the Orange County Board of Elections creates the Wards for the Town within 120 days prior to the beginning of that election cycle.
Because of New York State Town Law - it is possible that the timing of a "Ward System" ballot vote could cause the early termination of the election results of the Town Council for the previous election. The timing of any "Ward System" ballot proposition poses both litigation risks for the Town of Blooming Grove, and a potential bitter divide with voters from the previous election cycle.
(9) Can a Ward System be implemented that is a hybrid of both "at-large" and "Ward" Council Seats so that the 2015 election choices will not be affected?
There is no way a "petition" process can implement a hybrid system for Town Governments, according to New York State Town Law. The "petition" process only allows voters to change from an "at large" to "Ward" system, or vice versa.
It may be possible, but has never been attempted under New York State Town Law, for a Town Board to create a local law via proposition that would create a hybrid "Town Council" in New York State. However, because this has never been previously attempted in New York State, and will likely face some legal challenge by any group that doesn't want that precedent setting Town legislation. A legal challenge that our small town of Blooming Grove would likely not want to defend in court and in lawyer fees.
(10) What is the term of office for each council member in a Ward System?
Two years. Same as the Town Supervisor.
So, every two years, Blooming Grove will have the luxury of seeing candidate signs not for 5 town-wide election races, but instead, for 3 town-wide races plus 4 to 6 ward races. I believe candidates will still put up signs where traffic flows, whether or not that traffic flow is in his or her Ward. It is just the nature of political campaigns. This will dramatically increase the blight of political lawn signs in the Town from before primary season through the General Election completion. Another reason you have to be careful of unintended consequences.
(11) What are the possible costs of going to a 6 member Town Council?
Additional salary, and possible pension costs, will have to be paid to the extra Town Council members.
(12) What are the possible costs of going to a Ward System?
There will be legal costs. We will be minimally charged for all Town Attorney time spent on pursing this mater, as we must follow certain legal steps if the Town Board votes to approve a resolution to put on the ballot.
Additional legal costs can be significant if litigation is started by those opposed to a Town-sanctioned Ward System, if for any reason the proposal is challenged as being discriminatory to certain groups of residents.
Copyright ©2016 Mark J. Levy, All Rights Reserved (this page last updated 04/03/2016)