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Commentary :: Labor : Organizing : Politics
Testimony at hearing on An Act to Provide Voters with More Ballot Choices
17 Jan 2006
Testimony submitted by Rand Wilson, Communications Workers of America, District One presented at a hearing on House Bill 90 held by the Joint Committee on Elections, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, January 17, 2006
Good afternoon and thank you for this opportunity to discuss the merits of House Bill 90, "An Act to Provide Voters with More Ballot Choices."

My name is Rand Wilson. Today I am representing District One of the Communications Workers of America and the Massachusetts Ballot Freedom Campaign, a coalition of 25 grassroots community and labor organizations concerned about the responsiveness of government to issues of working families. I am a resident of Somerville, Massachusetts.*

Two disturbing facts reveal the extent to which democracy in Massachusetts has slipped into serious disrepair. According to the election watchdog group FairVote, in 2002 almost 69 percent of Massachusetts elections were uncontested. That year, Massachusetts ranked second to last (just behind South Carolina) in the number of competitive elections in the United States.

A second alarming fact is that voter turnout in Massachusetts has been sharply declining. According to the Commonwealth's Elections Division, the number of registered voters participating in state elections was at an all time high in 1960 with 92 percent voting. Since then, it has steadily slipped over the years, reaching it its lowest point in 2002 when only 56 percent of registered voters participated. (It spiked sharply to 71 percent in 2004 probably because of interest in the hotly contested national presidential race featuring our own Senator John Kerry.)

When our democracy has a huge number of uncontested elections and low turnout, our entire state suffers. It results in government that is not as well informed by the voters as it should be. It means that good ideas and innovative policy approaches might not receive the public attention and debate that they deserve. It means that important voices aren't being heard.

One possible reflection of these problems is that 49 percent of Massachusetts registered voters are "un-enrolled" - indicating that neither of the main political parties articulates their values or political views.

That's why the Ballot Freedom Campaign worked with then State Representative Pat Jehlen to file House Bill 90 that would repeal the state's ban on "cross endorsement" voting. The bill is co-sponsored by seven Democratic and Republican legislators.

The cross endorsement method of voting allows two or more political parties to form a ballot coalition backing the same candidate. Cross endorsement would give voters an opportunity to express support for the platform or values of a minor party without "spoiling" or wasting their vote on a candidate who has no chance of winning. Allowing candidates to run for office with the support of more than one political party gives voters new opportunities to hold their elected officials accountable. Politicians can count the votes they receive on the minor party's ballot line and recognize the significance of that party's issues or platform in their election's outcome.

Widely used in Massachusetts and throughout the country in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries, this way of voting was legal in Massachusetts until 1912, when the legislature banned it. Today it is still commonly used in New York and Connecticut and some form of it is technically still allowed in five other states (Delaware, Mississippi, South Carolina, South Dakota and Vermont).

For too long the major parties in our state have taken the votes of working people for granted. By bringing back cross-endorsement, like-minded voters can build coalitions with people who share their values and have more impact in elections.

Fewer people are voting today than ever before because they feel left out by a system that responds more to big money than regular people. Lifting the ban on cross endorsement, would give voters a chance to send a stronger message to our elected officials.

With so many legislative elections going uncontested, people are losing faith in our democracy and turnout is declining. With the power of cross-endorsement, average citizens will have more opportunity to organize to bring good ideas about affordable health care, better and more secure jobs and stronger public schools into the electoral arena for much needed public debate and discussion.

Proponents of cross endorsement have organized ourselves into the Mass Ballot Freedom campaign and we are also seeking passage of a referendum this November that would accomplish the same objectives as House Bill 90. Our campaign gathered over 70,501 signatures from registered voters that were certified by local city and town election officials and sent to the Secretary of State's office. On December 20, the Elections Division reported to us that 68,496 of the certified signatures were allowed and that the initiative petition would be transmitted to the Clerk of the House of Representatives as required by the Constitution.

The public will undoubtedly be looking to many of the members of this committee as they make up their minds about the merits of cross endorsement voting. On behalf of the Ballot Freedom Campaign, we look forward to answering any questions or concerns that you might have about the initiative over the next few months and hopefully win your support for the vote in November 2006.

-----------------------------------
* Rand Wilson has worked as a union organizer for over 25 years. In addition to jobs with the Communications Workers, Service Employees and Teamsters unions among others; he was the founding director of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice. Wilson is President of the Center for Labor Education and Research, and a board member of the ICA Group, the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund and the Center for the Study of Public Policy. He is currently organizing director of IUE-CWA Local 201 in Lynn, MA.
See also:
http://www.massballotfreedom.com

This work is in the public domain
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Comments

Re: Testimony at hearing on An Act to Provide Voters with More Ballot Choices
17 Jan 2006
democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.
Re: Testimony at hearing on An Act to Provide Voters with More Ballot Choices
18 Jan 2006
perhaps so, but I don't see how voting for a candidate you belive in (like yourself perhaps) will actually kill you.

It probably won't do any good, certainly noone I've voted for has ever been elected, bu tsuppose there was 90% voter turn out instead of 40% and the "winning" candidate got 22% of the vote instead of 55% (remember you don't really even need 51% to win in this game most places), we'd have the same assholes but it would dig at their legitamacy a bit...
Lies, all lies.
21 Jan 2006
There he goes again. Wilson wants us to believe that if this electoral reshuffling measure passes, workers will have more choices at the ballot box. Don't count on it. It might give the Democrats, a party of war, racism, and capitalism, a new "progressive" alias, like the "Working Families Party", but that doesn't change anything. The WFP in New York gave their votes to war criminal Hillary Clinton and will endorse NY state attorney general Eliot Spitzer, the man who brought the Taylor Law case against the TWU transit workers, for governor of New York. Fuck that.

We need a labor party with a socialist program. These measures that Wilson promotes, while procedurally unobjectionable, actually put another obstacle in the way of building a real labor party by opening the field to the cynical tricksters of the WFP type who want to build fake labor fronts for the Democratic party instead.