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:
- Election Day Voter Registration
- 100% Renewable Energy
- Carbon Pricing
- Single-payer Healthcare
- Safe Communities Act (Immigrant Protections)
- Healthy Youth Act (LGBTQ Affirming Sex-ed that teaches consent)
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
- Has been killed in committee for over 14 years. No record of who voted it down.
- 21 states plus DC already have Election Day Registration.
- New Hampshire and Maine enacted it over 20 years ago.
- Election Day Registration is most impactful for young voter turnout, MA has 114 universities and colleges and Boston has over 250,000 college students.
❌ Safe Communities Act
- Would protect immigrants from Trump’s ICE department, but the Joint Committee on Public Safety & Homeland Security killed the bill by sending it to study last year, and we don’t know how the Reps/Senators voted.
- An earlier version called the Trust Act failed to get a vote in 2 sessions.
- It’s 7+ years since the concept was introduced, and even the urgency after the 2016 election hasn’t been enough to get the bill passed or to even have a public vote.
❌ 100% Renewable Energy by 2050
- Has been filed for at least 6 years. Environmental advocates haven’t heard anything from the committee since its hearing this summer.
- Last time we had significant climate change addressing legislation was 2008 for the Global Warming Solutions Act, which set emissions for 2020 and 2050.
❌ The Healthy Youth Act
- Has been killed in committee for over 8 years. No record of who voted it down.
- Teaching consent and medically accurate LBGTQ affirming sex ed is not only commonsense but widely supported by voters. 93 percent of likely Massachusetts voters believe sex education should teach young people how to care for their sexual health, as well as how to build healthy, respectful relationships and understand consent.
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.
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
- Public access to information: Only 7 states rank below Massachusetts in public access to information.
- Competitive elections: Massachusetts ranks last in terms of competitive elections. This lack of real campaigns leads to a lack of voter feedback to elected representatives.
- Ease of comparing and understanding legislation: The website of the California legislature contains a “compare” function that enables citizens and legislators to compare/contrast the language of a bill as it proceeded through the legislative process. The state legislatures of Indiana, Utah, and West Virginia also identify line edits on the text itself, although not in such an interactive form.