It's an interesting fact today that in Massachusetts, the vast majority of seats in the Legislature are held by Democrats, all members of the congressional delegation and both U.S. senators are Democrats, yet a majority of voters count themselves as unenrolled – not tied to any political party. That's not to say they don't pick one when they vote in primary elections, since many pick a Republican or Democrat ballot at the polls, then unenroll on the way out the door at their polling places.
A ballot question sponsored by Patrick Galvin, Secretary of State William Galvin's brother, would have asked voters if they wanted a single primary ballot that listed all candidates for all state and congressional races. That question won't make the 2020 ballot because it didn't pass the constitutional review by Attorney General Maura Healey.
William Galvin said last week he'd still like to see the proposal make a statewide ballot.
The proposal would put candidates from every party on a ballot, with the top two candidates in a race moving on to the general election. The problem with that idea, in a state with such heavy voting for Democratic Party candidates, could mean Republicans might be less likely to ever make it to the general election in November because the larger number of Democratic voters would cast ballots for Democrats, bumping everyone but the top two candidates, who odds say would be Democrats.
As things stand now, voters in a given party get the opportunity to winnow their own candidates in the primary, putting their standard-bearer up against those of other qualified parties in the final election.
Local, non-partisan elections work along the lines of what Galvin supports, but critics point out that not including a local candidate's party affiliation for voters to see might leave many voters in the dark about a candidate's allegiances or biases.
Another idea to change the way elections are held is on track to make the 2020 ballot, provided that it gets enough signatures from registered voters to move forward. In the system known as ranked-choice voting voters rank all candidates by preference on their ballots. If one gets a simple majority, he or she wins. But if no one achieves that then the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated, lifting the second-preference choices on those ballots. A new tally is done to see if anyone won a majority of the adjusted votes and the process is repeated until one candidate wins an outright majority.
That voting system was implemented in Maine in 2018 for federal general elections, and cities in seven states have implemented ranked-choice voting as of this year. In Massachusetts, Cambridge has implemented ranked-choice voting and Amherst has adopted but not implemented it.
We're not seeing a clear favorite among these systems, but would like to see the Galvin proposal of having a single primary ballot approved and put up for a statewide vote to gauge voter interest. It would be even more interesting to see a ballot question proposing ranked-choice voting in the mix as well. The benefit of having either or both up for a statewide vote would be to get a broad discussion going. Discussions and educational efforts could help residents decide whether we can improve our system of voting, how we might make it fairer and more streamlined, and how we can ensure minor party candidates get a fair shake in the public debate. Keep in mind any changes would not affect presidential voting, but aim for updating voting for state and federal offices.
It's clear 2020 won't be the year for a vote on all of these questions but the door has been open, especially by ranked-choice voting supporters, to start discussing the pros and cons of election reform for the Bay State.