FAQ: Democracy Reform Ballot Question

In Massachusetts, important progressive legislation is blocked year after year. On many issues—like climate change, voting rights, protecting immigrants, and reproductive justice—strong popular support & 80% Democratic supermajorities don’t lead to action.

Why? A major problem is that Massachusetts has one of the least transparent state governments in the country. It’s very hard for the average resident to get information about what’s happening in our legislature. Many people think it’s their fault that they haven’t been paying attention. But that’s not true.

Massachusetts is in the minority of states that do not make committee votes public. In most states, you can go to the website of the legislature, and look up how your elected representatives voted. Not here.

Committees are where legislation goes to die in Massachusetts. At the end of the last legislative session in 2018, the following bills were all killed in committee with no record of how legislators voted:

Our First Step: Make Committee Votes Public

The legislature makes the rules on whether committee votes are public or not. The MA State Senate has already taken a clear stand, by voting UNANIMOUSLY in favor of making committee votes publicly available. (Senate Roll Call #2, on Amendment #1 to S.9, passed by 39-0 vote)

But efforts to fix this problem in the MA House of Representatives have failed thus far. They will vote on this issue again in January 2021, and so we are asking voters in most State Rep districts to make their voice heard.

In November, you will get a chance to vote on the question, in as many districts as we are able to qualify for the ballot:

Shall the representative for this district be instructed to vote in favor of changes to the Legislature’s rules that would make the results of all votes in Legislative committees publicly available on the Legislature’s website?

Progressive bills killed without a public vote

Massachusetts has waited too long for common sense legislation. 

❌ Election Day Registration 

❌ Safe Communities Act 

❌ 100% Renewable Energy by 2050

❌ The Healthy Youth Act 

MA compared to other states

❌ Committee Votes

Massachusetts is in the minority of states that do not make committee votes public. Twenty-six states make such committee roll call votes available electronically on the page for the corresponding bill: AK, AZ, CA, CO, CT, FL, HI, IL, IN, ME, MD, MT, NE, NV, NJ, NM, OH, OK, OR, PA, SD, TN, VA, WA, WI & WY. It’s time for the Massachusetts legislature to join them.

❌ Floor Votes

Massachusetts has one of the highest barriers obtaining recorded vote by roll call on the floor. Massachusetts is 1 of 5 states where the following conditions are true: 1) not all legislation requires a recorded vote (i.e. “Roll Call”), and 2) recording a vote requires more than 10% of the legislature. Thus few votes are recorded, preventing voters from holding their Representatives accountable. The other states are Mississippi, Georgia, Hawaii, and Rhode Island.

In addition, The Lower House of the legislature in 27 states has a lower number of State Reps or Assemblymen required to get a vote recorded in general.

❌ Testimony

Numerous states provide lists of the organizations and individuals who testified in favor or against a piece of legislation. AK, AZ, CA, CT, HI, IL, KS, ME, OH, OR, WV, and WI all provide such information. Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Ohio, Oregon, and Wisconsin take the additional step of including links to the submitted testimony.

Other transparency and accountability indicators