By Bob Katzen
On April 16, the day before the SJC ruling, the Senate approved and sent to the House a bill which mirrors the SJC decision except it did not reduce the signatures required for candidates for the state Legislature.
Here is how the debate went in the Senate. Readers should keep in mind when reading this that all of this debate was prior to the SJC ruling.
Sen. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton) offered an amendment to lower the signature requirement for state senator from 300 to 150 and for State Representative from 150 to 75. With just nine senators in the chamber because of COVID-19, the amendment was defeated on a five to four standing vote.
Supporters of the amendment said it is outrageous that the Legislature reduced the number of signatures required for many offices but left the number for candidates for the state Legislature the same. They said the refusal to reduce those numbers makes the bill a pro-incumbent proposal that makes it less likely for challengers for House and Senate seats to get on the ballot.
“Our main focus in the Legislature should be dealing with challenges we face during this pandemic, such as sourcing PPE for healthcare workers, or finding solutions to the unemployment crisis,” said Fattman. “It is egregious to be spending time protecting certain incumbents when there are so many struggling to figure out where their next meal comes from. This is why my amendment proposed fairness to all. We can either reduce the signature count for every candidate or keep it the same for every candidate.”
“I am gratified that the Senate approved my bill halving the requirements for candidates who need 1,000 or more signatures to get on the ballot,” said Sen. Joan Lovely (D-Salem), Chair of the Senate Committee on Rules. “This bill prudently protects both civic-minded citizens and potential officeholders and represents a reasonable step for the Senate to take in this perilous period.”
“In typical Beacon Hill Democrat Party fashion, extending the signature deadlines for qualifying as a candidate during this historic crisis specifically excludes those of state legislators — creating an even greater hurdle for non-incumbent challengers lacking an established organization or competitive funds,” said Chip Ford, Executive Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “Incumbents have been raising money since the day they were first elected, have their lists of established donors and supporters, thus they have a built-in advantage. It comes as no surprise that the vast majority in the Legislature as usual takes care of itself above and ahead of all else.”
“During this pandemic, we need to uphold our democratic processes while prioritizing public health and safety, and this bill strikes that balance, said Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover), Senate chair of the Committee on Election Laws. “The Senate’s decision to reduce the threshold for candidates needing more than 1,000 signatures is a fair, commonsense compromise. Those who have run for office or worked on campaigns know that the massive, coordinated effort of a statewide campaign differs in character and nature from the smaller legislative races, which in normal times only require a small fraction of the number of signatures. Getting on the ballot in Massachusetts is a process that, for good reason, requires community support, and reducing the signature requirement to an extremely low number would undermine that.”
“The majority party that runs the Statehouse once again demonstrated that they will put their interests ahead of the public’s,” said Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance Executive Director Paul Craney. “It serves no one but themselves to keep the signature threshold for themselves. This is a selfish act during a time when people are hurting. Their actions today will put more people at a health risk and it only benefits their chances at reelection. It’s unfortunate but should not surprise anyone who closely follows the actions of the majority party at the Statehouse.”
Jim Lyons, chairman of the Republican State Committee, said Senate Democrats voted in lockstep to advance an election bill that would immediately benefit one of their most powerful incumbents, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey. “This is exactly the kind of game the Democrats intended to play, as soon as they heard Sen. Markey was 3,000 signatures short,” the Democrats panicked and wanted to change the rules to help their guy, and were in quite a hurry to do so — but too bad if you’re trying to qualify to run against one of them.”