3 ways to make Mass. elections fairer
Roadblocks currently help make us a one-party state
IN THE RECENT general election, local proponents of ranked choice voting were earnest in their desire for electoral reform in Massachusetts. While I vehemently disagreed with their voting system, and am relieved that we on the No on 2 Committee were successful in our efforts to stop ranked choice voting, I do agree that the Commonwealth is in need of reforms to lessen the stranglehold incumbency has on our state.
The advocates for ranked choice voting spoke often of what they called a “duopoly” dominating politics in Massachusetts. As a Republican, it pains me to point out that there is nothing resembling a duopoly in the Commonwealth. Save for our propensity to elect Republican governors, my party—which currently makes up less than 10 percent of the electorate—has been unable to break into either our congressional delegation or our constitutional offices for decades (average margin of defeat in the last two cycles for the latter: 30.6 percent). Moreover, while the rest of the United States is experiencing an overwhelming dominance by the GOP in state legislatures, only about 20 percent of ours is Republican.
We are the very picture of a one-party state—and that is far more dangerous to good governance than a duopoly. To be sure, the Republican Party is often its own worst enemy, with incessant in-fighting and vast divides between moderates and the far right.
But I believe it is in the best interests of the Commonwealth for our government to have true checks and balances not only between its branches, but within them as well. To that end, we must take steps to make our elections fairer by removing the legislative roadblocks implemented to maintain one-party rule. I propose three that require immediate attention.
In other words, while Democrats are fighting off challengers in their primaries and dominating political headlines and raising money all summer long, Republicans are struggling to get even a mention in the media. And once there is a Democratic primary winner, that candidate is armed with enormous name recognition even if they are not an incumbent. These well-established candidates need only fend off the little-known Republicans for seven weeks before declaring victory, as less than two months is hardly enough time to reach voters and accumulate adequate funding to beat an incumbent.
Massachusetts should move its primaries to no later than the first week of May, which would give voters six full months to get to know both candidates. Recognition breeds media attention and, in turn, money. Without it, a successful challenge is all but impossible.
Next, the order in which names are listed on the ballot should be randomized. Currently, Massachusetts law dictates that candidates for re-election who are incumbents are listed first. While most voters assume that ballots list names alphabetically, the Legislature saw to it—through a little-noticed law—that the first name a voter sees belongs to the person already in power. This is no small issue: research out of Sam Houston University showed that in primary elections (in which party preference was not a factor), moving a name from last to first on a ballot can mean a staggering 10 percent increase in votes. For the sake of fairness, Massachusetts should move to a computer-generated randomized order of candidate order on ballots for all elections.
While the order of names listed on the ballot may have a tacit influence on voters, another Massachusetts law offers a loudspeaker to be sure that incumbents win elections. Chapter 54, Section 41, requires that the words “Candidate for Reelection” appear on the same line as the incumbent’s name for all state and city races, except for that of candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor. This phrase serves no legitimate purpose. One wonders if the legislature would vote for a law that allows challengers to have the words “Candidate for Change” listed next to their names. This law should be repealed.
These latter two measures were, frankly, passed with the sole intention of ensuring that its enactors remain in their offices until they see fit to step down on their own timetable, if ever. And all three serve only to maintain entrenched power. Undoing them would help restore sorely needed confidence in both our elections and our representatives.These three measures are reasonable and necessary for fairer elections, and I call upon the Legislature to take up all three.
The only citizens of Massachusetts who would oppose these changes are currently holding elected office, and therein lies the problem: those who can most easily change them are also the least likely to, because doing so would mean relinquishing power. But the electorate can demand these easily understandable steps and should unite in demanding them. That’s a fight I will happily join.