A State Supreme Court justice has tossed out a petition request that would allow Amherst voters to decide in November whether they want Town Board members to be elected by geographic districts.
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Timothy Walker sided with petition objectors and the Amherst town clerk in ruling the petition invalid Friday morning.
Earlier in the week, Town Clerk Marjory Jaeger stated that the ward system petitions submitted to her office "do not comply with all the requirements of the law" because state law requires that any petition to establish council districts or wards can only be done in towns that have four or six council members.
Because of the Town Board downsizing initiative approved by voters in 2010, Amherst currently has five board members, not including the supervisor.
"The judge found that there are no grounds to hold a referendum on the ward system in the Town of Amherst, and we agree with that because the Town of Amherst is different from most other towns," said Town Attorney E. Thomas Jones.
Supervisor Barry Weinstein said he was happy with the judge's decision.
"I'm pleased," he said. "I don't think we should be putting the voters through this every two years."
Had the petition successfully placed a proposition on the ballot regarding the creation of council districts, it would have been the fifth time the matter has been placed before voters. Though the proposition has been repeatedly defeated, the last time it failed by a narrow 2 percent margin in 2010.
The citizens' petition was championed by town Democratic leaders, just as it was two years ago. It was opposed by town Republican leaders.
Proponents of the ward system say it makes Town Board members more accountable to their constituents and less beholden to deep-pocket special-interest groups. Opponents say having divided representation encourages board members to take a narrow approach to town leadership instead of working together for the town as a whole.
A district-based system also makes it easier and cheaper for more people to run for office, not just well-financed candidates. Republicans are generally better funded than Democratic candidates in the town.