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The two sides of ranked choice voting

Massachusetts voters will decide on the November ballot whether to overhaul the state’s system of voting by switching to ranked-choice voting for most non-presidential elections.

Under ranked-choice voting, as envisioned by Question 2, each voter ranks candidates according to preference. A candidate who gets more than 50 percent of first-choice votes wins. If no candidate reaches that threshold, however, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated and their ballots are recounted based on the voter’s second choice. The process repeats until someone gets a majority.

Evan Falchuk, chair of the YES on 2 campaign and a former United Independent candidate for governor, and Nick Murray, a policy analyst with Maine Policy Institute, joined The Codcast – in separate interviews – to discuss the pros and cons of ranked-choice voting.  

The two sides of ranked choice voting

Massachusetts voters will decide on the November ballot whether to overhaul the state’s system of voting by switching to ranked-choice voting for most non-presidential elections.

Evan Falchuk, chair of the YES on 2 campaign and a former United Independent candidate for governor, and Nick Murray, a policy analyst with Maine Policy Institute, joined The Codcast – in separate interviews – to discuss the pros and cons of ranked-choice voting.

Listen here to the full episode:

Health care in the age of COVID

MASSACHUSETTS HEALTH care costs are expected to actually drop this year because of a decline in non-COVID care, but the executive director of the state’s Health Policy Commission says many of the underlying drivers of spending haven’t changed.

David Seltz, speaking on The Codcast with John McDonough of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Paul Hattis, a retired associate professor at Tufts University Medical School, said the clout of larger health care providers remains undiminished and health insurance rates are already scheduled to rise next year.

Andrea Campbell says Boston primed for change

FOR ANDREA CAMPBELL, action is what distinguishes her platform and ideas from Mayor Marty Walsh.

Campbell, a black District 4 city councilor, announced her run for the city’s top office on September 24. The 38-year-old Mattapan resident believes that the country and city are “in a unique moment” where people are seeking more than just a dialogue about race and systemic inequities.

“People are of course emailing, marching in the streets, demanding real change. And I think Boston needs new leadership that not only understands what they’re talking about — but has lived them,” she said on this week’s Codcast. “I’m running for mayor to be that leader.”

Listen to the full Codcast episode here:

Michelle Wu’s personal path to politics

Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu confirmed earlier this month what had been widely speculated for more than a year — she will run for mayor next year. 

Wu has, in very short order, become a political force to be reckoned with in the city. She placed second in the at-large council race in her first run for office, in 2013, a feat she repeated two years later before going on to top the at-large ticket in the last two city elections. 

The 35-year-old city councilor has become a leading voice for systemic change — whether it’s her call for a comprehensive restructuring of the city’s approach to planning and development or battling a recent MBTA fare hike by advancing the idea of free transit, an idea that only recently seemed fanciful but has begun to gain traction and spur important discussion of transit policy. 

Wu is, by conventional standards, an unlikely figure to be challenging a sitting Boston mayor (though incumbent Mayor Marty Walsh has yet to declare his candidacy, he is widely expected to seek a third term next year). She is shy by temperament, and when she entered Harvard as an undergraduate in 2004, according to an Atlantic magazine profile last year, politics was so removed from Wu’s upbringing that she considered herself neither a Democrat nor a Republican. 

Our conversation this week with Wu on The Codcast focused more on getting to know her than on details of campaign policy points she’ll be advancing. The picture that emerges reveals how various strands of her family history, childhood, and college years, even if removed from formal involvement in politics, connect in ways that make a future in public service not that unlikely after all.

Even basics in dispute on Right to Repair ballot question

Massachusetts voters will be asked in November whether to update the Right to Repair law — but they may have a hard time wading through the complexities of a ballot question when supporters and opponents cannot even agree on the basics of what it will do.

Tommy Hickey, director of the Right to Repair Coalition, and Conor Yunits, a spokesman for No on One, joined the Codcast to discuss the ballot question – and disagreed on even the most factual details of what the current law says and how the ballot question would change it.

Today, cars are equipped with a port where a mechanic can plug in and diagnose a problem. The ballot question would require manufacturers to create a new open access data platform where consumers, and their repair shops, could use a mobile app to access telematic data, which is information transmitted wirelessly.

Hickey said telematics is simply new technology that provides the same diagnostic and repair information now available through the port. He compared it to the internet and email replacing letters and pay phones. “There is a new, more efficient way to diagnose and repair a car,” Hickey said.

Hickey called the ballot question an update to the 2013 law, maintaining the spirit of the law that gives independent repair shops the same ability to fix a car as a dealership. He said the ballot question will create “a level playing field” where owners can access their car’s information and “can continue to get their cars fixed where they want.” For example, a repair shop owner might want to get a notification that a car’s brakes are about to wear out – a notification now sent only to a dealer.

But Yunits said the ballot question would require the sharing of additional information, like a car’s location. Yunits said the Autocare Association, one of the ballot question’s funders, has been showing mockups of a mobile app that includes GPS location and behavior data. “It goes well beyond mechanical data,” Yunits said. “And that is where the risk is.”

No worries with ‘crowded’ Red Line train

I took a Red Line train last week that was crowded according to the MBTA’s COVID-19 crowding standards, but the consensus on this week’s Codcast was that I didn’t need to worry.

My train car last Tuesday had about 65 people on it, one shy of the level the T says qualifies as crowded on a Red Line car. All of the passengers were wearing masks. Those seated had at least one seat separating them from other passengers. There were people standing in the middle of the car often near other passengers.

Jim Aloisi, the former secretary of transportation and TransitMatters board member, called my story on the crowded train ride a mild over-reaction “Your article might have given people an impression that they should be fearful of a situation that I don’t think is any more or less risky than any of the other activities that people do normally all the time,” he said.

Aloisi called the T a “fairly low-risk environment” as long as riders don’t spend too long on trains, keep their distance from other passengers, wear face coverings, and use trains where the ventilation system is working properly.

Listen to the full podcast episode here:

Parent frustration about schools is rising

With less than two weeks until school starts, parents from Somerville and Newton say they have yet to get any details on what classes will look like for their children and whether remote learning will be better than it was when schools suddenly shut down last spring amid COVID-19.

“Families cannot live in a state of uncertainty,” said Keri Rodrigues of Somerville on The Codcast. “I am two weeks away from the first day of school in Somerville. I still don’t have a specific hour-by-hour schedule of what remote learning is going to look like, when my child is expected to be on Zoom. I don’t even know who my kids’ teachers are going to be and frankly they don’t know my kids either. I just spent six months with my children. I have a lot of information I’d like to tell their teachers about who they are, how they learn, and what they’re capable of. And there has not been any communication with me and … what this is going to look like when it gets down to brass tacks.”

Jack Cheng of Newton says he and his two teenagers are also in the dark. “They don’t know what school is going to be like and they’re frustrated,” he said.

Listen to the full episode of the Codcast here

Rep. Barber spotlights ‘draconian’ MassHealth asset recovery policies

The federal government allows states to recoup Medicaid costs after the deaths of patients who use the program. Estate recovery allows homes to be seized and sold to pay off expended Medicaid dollars, a move advocates decry as penalizing low-income families, and making Medicaid into a loan program.


Some states take the federal rules a step further. “MassHealth has some of the strongest and most draconian state recovery rules in the country,” Somerville Rep. Christine Barber said on a new “Health or Consequences” episode of The Codcast with John McDonough of the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and Dr. Paul Hattis, who recently retired from Tufts University School of Medicine.

Markey-Kennedy race in the homestretch

Nearly everyone agrees that when Joe Kennedy launched his primary challenge nearly a year  ago to Sen. Ed Markey, the son of the state’s most storied political family looked like a good bet to oust the veteran Malden pol. 

A lot can change in a year, and it has. 

With the primary a week away, it seems clear that Markey has erased any advantage gap Kennedy enjoyed, with at least one recent poll showing him pulling away. Joyce Ferriabough Bolling, a veteran Roxbury political strategist, and Stephanie Murray of Politico sized up where things stand on the Codcast’s final pre-primary look at the race. 

Ferriabough Bolling said she’s surprised Kennedy didn’t embrace earlier in the race his family name, which she said remains “legendary” to Massachusetts voters. “I know people have been saying, well, not for this generation,” she said. “I don’t believe that.”