WHILE 2024 VOTERS may yet consider whether they want to legalize psychedelics for medical use, end the use of the 10th grade MCAS as a graduation requirement, or categorize app-based gig workers as independent contractors, two would-be ballot measures forcefully opposed by Massachusetts conservatives fell by the wayside this cycle – ranked choice voting and rent control.
Attorney General Andrea Campbell, who is listed as a supporter of ranked choice voting by the advocacy organization Voter Choice Massachusetts, nonetheless decided not to certify a number of ballot efforts that bundled ranked choice voting with other election reforms like same-day registration.
But the rejection, which aligned with arguments made by the conservative Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, was mostly procedural. Campbell ruled that the ballot effort came too soon after the defeated 2020 ballot measure proposing ranked choice voting, and it tried to include too many unrelated items. Neither of these reasons prevents proponents from taking another, more targeted swing next cycle, and pushes on the local front to implement ranked choice mean MassFiscal and the opposition groups are staying on the attack.
The system “essentially boils down to more confusing, less accessible, less transparent” elections, said Jennifer Braceras, a MassFiscal board member, on The Codcast. While proponents say ranked choice widens the playing field by allowing voters to rank their preferred candidates and lessens the risk of vote splitting or spoiler candidates, Braceras says the process can devalue voters who only want to indicate a few preferred candidates, and is “anti-democratic in that sense; it’s a runoff where all voters don’t get to participate in the runoff.”
An effort in Boston, meanwhile, to push for ranked choice voting in municipal races through a home rule campaign is a misstep, in MassFiscal spokesman Paul Craney’s view, because the city’s “unique” system already includes a non-partisan primary and runoff system.
These issues tend to be cyclical, with proposals to change state voting systems rejected by either legislators or voters over the years.
Unlike in 2020, the government is now controlled by Democrats as far as the eye can see – though lawmakers failing to settle a supplemental budget before the close of formal session has given the few Republicans on Beacon Hill an unusual amount of leverage as Thanksgiving week begins.
Gov. Maura Healey, who ran unopposed as a moderate for the Democratic nomination for governor last year, has taken positions in her first year that have by turn heartened and exasperated state fiscal conservatives.
“I think one of the big things for Gov. Healey versus Gov. Baker is that the landscape is much different now than even it was a year ago,” Craney said. He decries the passage of the “millionaires tax” as a contributor to an outflow of wealthy Massachusetts residents or businesses.
Baker had his issues with the MBTA, Craney acknowledges – on the same week as the embattled agency estimated it will take $24.5 billion to bring the system into a state of good repair – but Healey is now facing an immigration surge and shelter squeeze that “seems to be a powder keg going off right now.” Craney gives her an “incomplete” so far, and notes that if the intention, which was not expressed by lawmakers, of a billion-dollar tax cut package passed this fall was to try to “mitigate” the impact of the millionaires tax, it is “a failure for that.”
The group is pleased that Rep. Mike Connolly withdrew his ballot measure to allow cities and towns to implement rent control, falling more than 60,000 signatures short with only weeks before the November 22 deadline.
Meanwhile, Craney voiced support for state Auditor Diana DiZoglio’s quest to audit the finances and processes of the notoriously opaque Legislature.
The ballot measure may yet run into issues constitutionally, but “a bigger issue here is, what are we hiding?” Craney said. “We have to ask ourselves, because we’re going to such great lengths to not audit the Legislature for what, and why only in Massachusetts does this kind of stuff happen?”
Even in a hypothetical 2024 where the auditing measure passes muster and gains voter approval, Craney mused that lawmakers may still work to kneecap it.
“As we know in ballot questions, just because you pass something doesn’t mean that it has to be enacted into law,” he said. “So I hope that if it does pass, that the Legislature will take that and will enact it into law, because in the past they have blocked ballot questions. They’ve blocked term limits, they’ve blocked other ones that passed with high marks. And that’s again another fault in our process.”