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Category: Massachusetts (page 1 of 2)

The New Evolution of Voter Registration in Massachusetts

By: Erik Gerstner

“The right to vote is the most fundamental of all,” wrote Suffolk Superior Court Justice Douglas Wilkins on July 25, 2017, in Chelsea Collaborative v. Galvin, in which he declared the Commonwealth’s law imposing a voter registration cutoff twenty days before an election to fall afoul of the Massachusetts Constitution. A case spearheaded by the ACLU, Chelsea Collaborative sought to end the nearly twenty-five year old law, which according to the plaintiffs disenfranchised thousands of eligible voters each election cycle. Indeed, according to the Boston Globe, nearly 20% of eligible voters said they were not registered to vote because they had missed the early cutoff date. According to precedent set over a century ago in Kineen v. Wells¸ 11 N.E. 916 (Mass. 1887), any legislation diminishing the rights of a constitutionally qualified citizen to vote “must be unconstitutional, unless it can be defended on the ground that it is reasonable and necessary.” Wilkins agreed with the plaintiffs that the current law clearly is neither reasonable nor necessary, and thus must be struck down.

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Early Voting: Welcome to Massachusetts

By: John Jongbloed

This year’s election cycle will be the first in which Massachusetts citizens are permitted to participate in early voting in state elections. This recent development in Massachusetts’ election law is accompanied by several other changes and results from the enactment of An Act Relative to Election Laws, 2014 (HB 3788). More specifically, the reform bill provides for early voting in biennial state elections between eleven and two days before election day.

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Massachusetts Rules against Ban on Lying in Campaigns

By: David Schlosser

Over the summer of 2015, a Massachusetts law banning lying in campaign ads was struck down by that state’s highest court. This decision mirrors that of an Ohio federal judge last year, a case previously covered on this blog by Sarah Wiley. Like the Ohio law, the Massachusetts law criminalized telling lies about candidates for political office, and was as on the books for several decades before being successfully challenged in court. The lawsuit arose when a Democratic state representative alleged that a right-leaning PAC lied in a campaign brochure. The brochure in question alleged that Rep. Brian Mannal sponsored a bill that would “help convicted sex offenders” because he—as a defense attorney who had represented sex offenders in the past—stood to profit. Mannal maintained that he never provided legal representation to sex offenders. One of the bills in question would make GPS tracking devices optional for sex offenders on parole, rather than mandatory. After filing the bill in 2013, Mannal reported that he received death threats.

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“War Chests” and Political Spending in Massachusetts: Are Unions and Corporations Similarly Situated?

By Allison Davis

In March of 2015, two family-owned companies headquartered in Massachusetts filed suit in state court challenging certain provisions of Massachusetts’ campaign finance laws. The provisions in question prohibit corporations and corporate PACs from contributing to candidates or political party committees, but permit labor unions and their PACs to directly contribute up to $15,000 per calendar year to candidates or parties. According to the plaintiffs’ complaint (filed as 1A Auto, Inc. v. Sullivan), this law represents a “lopsided ban” that stifles First Amendment-protected speech and associational rights for corporations. Additionally, the plaintiffs allege that the law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution by granting unions and their PACs a privilege that is forbidden to their corporate counterparts. Continue reading

Challenges to Direct Democracy: The Massachusetts Right to Repair Ballot Question

by Jaclyn Petruzzelli

In an exercise of their democratic freedoms under state law, Massachusetts residents successfully petitioned to have three distinct initiatives posed to voters on November 6th. Of those three ballot questions, two received widespread media attention: (1) the legalization of medical marijuana, which ultimately passed by a wide margin, and (2) the legalization of prescribing medication to end life, which, after passionate debate, was defeated by a relatively small percentage of voters. Meanwhile, results for the third ballot initiative regarding the availability of motor vehicle repair information for independent repair shop owners, more commonly referred to as the “right to repair,” were not so much as acknowledged by major news organizations. However, after receiving strong voter support on Election Day, the right to repair initiative has begun to gain some media attention.

On August 8th, over a month after the deadline was met to have the right to repair initiative placed on the ballot, Governor Deval Patrick signed Bill H.4362 into law. This act “protecting motor vehicle owners and small businesses in repairing motor vehicles” included variations of many of the provisions within the right to repair initiative, all of which had been thoroughly debated between legislators and leaders in the automobile industry; and subsequently were passed with unanimous bipartisan support. Proud of their accomplishments, legislators urged voters to ignore the right to repair ballot question in order to avoid having to reconcile Bill H.4362 with the statute drafted by the citizens. Continue reading

Sticker Candidates in a Technological Age: The Case of Massachusetts

by Jaclyn Petruzzelli

Robert Fennel has been the State Representative in the 10th Essex District in Massachusetts for the past 18 years. In September, he won the primary handily, receiving nearly 90% of the vote. While this scenario is not unique among incumbents across the nation, what makes the story of the 10th Essex County race interesting is that sticker candidate Gardy Jean-Francois earned the other 10% of the votes via write-in. Continue reading

Terminating “gerrymander” ghouls with transparency: Massachusetts’s 2012 redistricting approach (Part II)

by Richard Clausi

In light of Massachusetts’ long and sordid history with the issue of gerrymandering, it came as no surprise when Democratic Representative Michael J. Moran predicted two months ago that certain residents would be skeptical of the state’s recently-released congressional redistricting plans for the 2012 election cycle. However, thanks to the Massachusetts Legislature’s commitment to governmental transparency over the last eight months, it appears that the majority of Bay State citizens are confident that fairness and equal voting rights will prevail next November.

Beginning in March of this year, the Massachusetts Legislature Redistricting Committee (the “MLRC”) was given the difficult task of creating nine new voting districts following the loss of one of the state’s congressional districts due to the 2010 Census results. In light of the state’s failed 2001 Redistricting Act (which was struck down, in part, due to its discriminatory effects on the voting rights of African-Americans), the MLRC took great steps over the spring and summer monthsto ensure that Massachusetts residents were given the opportunity to weigh in on how the district lines would be drawn for 2012. Through the use of multiple public meetings and an extremely informative and accessible website, MLRC Chairman Michael J. Moran and his colleagues hoped that their “open-forum” philosophy would promote the idea that the new 2012 congressional districts would be created with voting equality principles in mind (as opposed to mere incumbency protection in a Democratic-dominated state).  And for now, that philosophy seems to have accomplished its stated objective. Continue reading

Terminating “gerrymander” ghouls with transparency: Massachusetts’ 2012 redistricting approach

by Richard Clausi

Generally known as the birthplace of the term “gerrymandering,” Massachusetts is certainly no stranger to accusations of unequal divisions of the state’s electoral power.  From Governor Elbridge Gerry’s 1812 attempts to weaken the Federalist Party to House Speaker Tom Finneran’s 2001 alleged legislative efforts to diminish minority vote strength, historical reasons abound as to why vigilant Bay State minority citizens would be extremely wary of the state’s upcoming Congressional redistricting.  In order to quell these inevitable fears of vote dilution and limit “beast sightings” (see right) in the 2012 election cycle, however, Massachusetts lawmakers have armed themselves with an invisible weapon – transparency.

Although its population grew a modest 3.1 percent from 2001 to 2010, Massachusetts still lost one of its ten congressional districts once the U.S. Census Bureau finalized its statistics last December.  As a result, Massachusetts voters in 2012 will elect the fewest number of their representatives to the U.S. Congress (nine) since the late eighteenth century.  However, before a single representative from Massachusetts even enters the 113th Congress, the state’s Legislative Redistricting Committee must create new congressional district lines that adhere to legal doctrinal principles and (hopefully) community desires. Continue reading

Some will Win, Some will Lose, Some States are Born to Sing the Blues: The Coming Battle Over Reapportionment

The stakes are incredibly high, reapportionment is looming, and recent data from Election Data Services shows that neither Democrats nor Republicans will be too pleased come next year. States which have been recently labeled as ‘safe Republican’ in Presidential elections will gain seats, but in more Democratically inclined areas. States recently labeled as ‘safe Democrat’ in Presidential elections will lose some seats. The biggest gain will be in Texas. Texas can expect to gain four House seats, at least some of which will be placed in locations more favorable to Democratic candidates. Meanwhile, New York, a state typically labeled as ‘safe Democrat’ in Presidential elections, will likely lose two House seats. In terms of multi-district moves, Florida will likely gain two seats and Ohio will likely lose two seats. Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington will all likely gain a seat while Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania will all likely lose a seat.

Reapportionment is becoming a problem not only for certain Presidential candidates but also state and federal candidates, especially candidates in the Midwest where rapid population flight is decimating the electoral landscape. The close electoral math is mapping onto reapportionment strategy. Democrats and Republicans are locked in a mortal struggle to gain control of state houses and governor’s mansions across the nation, in anticipation of being able to influence the composition of both state legislatures and Congress over the next decade. Continue reading

Solving the Epidemic of Disappearing Poll Workers – Part 1: Young People

poll workersThere is a disease spreading throughout our nation’s polling locations. The graying of America is seen most potently behind the polls. Poll workers in America have an average age in the 70s, significantly older than the average age of AARP members (64). The current elderly class of civic-minded individuals who have fulfilled their civic duty responsibly for decades have been leaving out of confusion with new technology and the effects of their old age. As this void continues to grow, more and more options will need to be considered by state and local legislatures in order to ensure that elections go smoothly. This is the first post in a series about what could be done to help solve the problem of disappearing poll workers.

Young people are the future leaders of this country, but some local election laws could be more conductive to this passing of the torch as poll workers. States could learn from one another in this respect. Massachusetts passed a law in 2008 which allowed poll workers as young as 16. 29 other states allow poll workers to be under the age of 18. Arizona allows 16 and 17 year old high-school students to miss the day of school to be a poll worker (with parental permission), and even pays them for their service. There may be some concerns about the ability of minors to act as competent poll workers, but the minors are usually well supervised. The immediate reaction to this legislation in most states has been positive, including in Minnesota, where Secretary of State Mark Ritchie remarked the 16 and 17 year old poll workers “have been a burst of energy” and “a big success.” Continue reading

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