Latest ranked choice ballot questions unconstitutional
Attorney general should not allow measures to move forward
IN 2020, nearly 80 percent of the state’s cities and towns, as well as 55 percent of the state’s voters, rejected a ballot question that would have forever changed our elections from a one person, one vote system to ranked choice voting. In that election, the proponents spent over $10 million over the course of two years, while the opponents spent $8,500 during the last 45 days.
In that 2020 election, just 16.3 percent of all the money raised to push the ranked choice ballot question came from Massachusetts donors. Some of the largest donors to the 2020 ranked choice ballot question were Kathryn Murdoch of the famous family that owns Fox News; Jonathan Soros, the son of George Soros; and John Arnold’s nonprofit organization from Houston, which came to prominence during his time as an executive at Enron. The proponents pushing for a redo during next year’s election are also from out of state, this time from an organization based in Oregon.
The proponents are attempting to go before the voters once again with a ballot question in support of their policy for the 2024 general election. They currently have three different draft ballot questions for ranked choice being reviewed by the attorney general’s office. On September 6, the attorney general will determine which ballot questions may go forward to the signature-collecting phase. From September to November, ballot question campaigns need to collect approximately 76,000 certified signatures and submit them to the secretary of state. Any potential legal challenge through the state Supreme Judicial Court would take place after the ballot questions submit their certified signatures to the secretary of state.
On August 2, the Fiscal Alliance Foundation submitted written comments to the attorney general casting doubt on the constitutionality of these potential ballot questions dealing with ranked choice voting. The Fiscal Alliance Foundation’s written comments argue the potential ballot questions cannot go forward since their petition violates the certification clause; essentially, the backers of ranked choice voting cannot put the same policy forward as a ballot question within “two election cycles” of a previous attempt. This is a rule contained within the Massachusetts state constitution designed to protect voters from being spammed by groups pushing the same ballot questions over and over until they achieve their desired results. This means the soonest ranked choice voting should be able to go before the voters again would be in the 2026 general election, and not next year. The proponents’ ballot question is so similar to the 2020 ballot question that much of its description is quoted, word for word, from the previous attempt.
The Fiscal Alliance Foundation also notes that the ballot question includes attempts to change multiple policies within one question, which is also forbidden by the Massachusetts state constitution. This is known as the related subjects requirement and is there to ensure voters are not asked questions on complicated, omnibus policies that can be difficult for the average voter to fully understand. The Fiscal Alliance Foundation contends that the potential ranked choice voting ballot question violates both of these protections.
It would be unlawful and unconstitutional for this ballot question to go forward. The voters of Massachusetts soundly rejected this complicated scheme only three years ago. While the proponents of ranked choice voting do not seem to care about the law or the will of the voters, the Fiscal Alliance Foundation certainly does, and we will protect the voters from advocates that try to abuse the system.
Paul Diego Craney is the spokesperson for the Fiscal Alliance Foundation.