Campaign not much of a contest

Massachusetts elections are becoming a little more of a contest, but not much

two years ago, we had stories showing the Bay State was dead last in the country for the number of contested races for the Legislature, with less than 17 percent of the seats having a candidate from both major parties in the 2008 election. By comparison, every one of Minnesota’s 134 House seats gave voters a choice.

So the 2010 ballot, where 46 percent of the Legisla­ture’s seats were contested, should boost our civic pride a bit, right? Well, yes and no. While the number is nearly a three-fold increase over the previous election, it still ranks Massa­chusetts at the back of the pack, 39th out of 50 states.

This analysis, compiled by reviewing ballots and results in all 50 states, defines a contested race as one where a Republican and a Democrat square off. Statistics show major party candidates won 98 percent of the races in the last two years and nearly 100 percent of the 7,384 state legislators in the United States have a major party affiliation.

According to Ballotpedia, a wiki site focused on local elections and legislation, Massachusetts ranks in the bottom quintile in overall competitiveness. The website counts contested races as well as open seats (Massachu­setts ranked 20th) and the number of primary challenges to incumbents (40th).

We’re not as bad as South Carolina, which ranks dead last with just 30 percent of the legislative seats having two or more major party candidates squaring off, but we don’t hold a candle to our neighbors in New Hampshire or Maine, first and second, respectively, with 98 and 97 percent challenge rates. New Jersey, which held its legislative elections in November, had contests for 99 percent of its seats but that was due in large part to redistricting, which took effect in 2011.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

Percentage of contested Legislative races, 2010 and 2011


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