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The History Behind Why Cobleskill’s Vote is Worth Fifteen Times More Than Blenheim’s

Written By Timothy Knight on 4/26/17 | 4/26/17

The idea of “one man, one vote” is a treasured concept in modern democracies, as it represents the individual power and responsibility of a citizen.

This concept has no place on the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors, however.

Based off of a demographically configured weighted vote system, the county’s 16 Town Supervisors are each assigned a number of votes that corresponds to the population of their municipality as a percentage of the county’s population as a whole.

For example: while incumbent Cobleskill Supervisor Leo McAllister casts 481 weighted votes as a result of his town’s high population, current Blenheim Supervisor Shawn Smith casts only 33 weighted votes due to his municipality’s sparse population.

This means that even though both men are their township’s highest elected representative on the county board, Mr. McAllister’s vote on any issue carries nearly fifteen times the weight of that of Mr. Smith’s.

With the county board’s 2,974 available weighted votes being divided between the 16 town supervisors based on population, it is mathematically possible for a two-thirds majority of the board to oppose a motion and still have fewer weighted votes than the supervisors representing the five largest towns in the county.

So long as the supervisors of Cobleskill, Middleburgh, Schoharie, Richmondville and Esperance pool their 1,604 weighted votes together on any issue, they have more than the 1,488 vote threshold necessary to approve or disapprove of any motion being considered.

Although this pooling of votes has not always occurred, due to divisions by faction or party, all five towns are currently represented by Republican supervisors who more often than not work together as a whole.

However, it was not always this way, as the county board use to operate under a one town, one vote system until the United States Supreme Court ruled in Reynolds V. Sims that legislative districts could not be based on land area (such as towns in a county, or counties in a state), because densely populated districts were being disenfranchised to the benefit of sparsely populated districts.

When asked for historical context on this issue, Conesville Supervisor Bill Federice told The Mountain Eagle that, “After the courts ruled the one town equals one vote system of county legislative government was unconstitutional the county was faced with the decision of whether to scrap the Board of Supervisors as it was then constructed and set up a legislative body based on equal districts which crossed town lines.”
 
“As a result, the option of creating a county legislative body with districts based on equal population was put to county voters several decades ago and soundly defeated,” continued Federice.

The supervisor added that, “It would appear the voters back in the day preferred the weighted vote to not having a guarantee someone from their town would be their elected representative at the county.”

Which is where the situation stands now more than five decades after the Supreme Court’s initial ruling on the issue resulted in Schoharie County’s weighted vote system that it has today.
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