On Wednesday, October 16th, I gave the following testimony to the Joint Committee on Election Laws. Thank you to First Officer Lucia for attending the hearing with me and to Lucia, Alex, Steve, Joe and everyone else who reviewed my testimony and offered suggestions and advice.
Thank you to the Chairman and Joint Committee on Election Laws for allowing me to speak today. I am James O’Keefe, Chair of the Massachusetts Pirate Party. Throughout the world, whether in Sweden, Russia, Brazil, or Massachusetts, the Pirate Party stands for democracy and transparency.
Before you are a series of bills that would open up or constrain elections in Massachusetts.
Bills such as H.645 and H.640 would introduce Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) to Massachusetts. IRV would ensure that candidates win by a majority rather than the most votes. IRV is a voting system used by a number of other advanced democracies such as Ireland and Australia.
Yesterday, State Senator Clark won her primary for the US House 5th District. However, 68% of all Democratic primary voters did not vote for her. Instant Runoff Voting would ensure that that would not be the case for future elections of some, but unfortunately not all offices. Allowing cities to adopt IRV, as H.640 does, would mean that cities could save money by eliminating preliminary elections.
H.597, which would establish an independent redistricting commission, is a positive step toward taking politics out redistricting decisions. Unfortunately, the suggested commission is not as independent as it should be. H.619, which would broaden access to the central voter registry, favors parties with ballot status by requiring that they pay a reasonable fee for their monthly access to the data; political designations, however, would need to pay $1000 for each access.
Unfortunately various bills before this committee would subvert our democracy. H.638 shortens the amount of time candidates would have to get on the ballot for special elections. H.627 and S.332 would place unnecessary and difficult regulations on paid signature gatherers. A democracy is only as healthy as the number of candidates willing to run. These bills will ensure that we have fewer candidates and ballot measures from which to choose.
S.334, which would give ballot qualified political parties the ability to challenge any voter’s right to vote, is particularly troubling. It is difficult enough to find the time to vote on a busy Tuesday when voters are faced with long lines at polling places. Why would we want to allow any biased participant the ability to challenge a voter’s right to vote, potentially slowing voting to a crawl for all voters. Justifications that such measures are needed to stop non-existent voter fraud ring hollow.
Voter lists are public records. H.3307 would prevent local candidates and political committees from having access to the voter lists, yet does not prevent well funded candidates from purchasing voter information via third parties.
Finally, H.639 would make it difficult for people to create and maintain political designations. While there are a large number of political designations, the list is misleading. Some, such as the Green-Rainbow Party, Green Party USA and Rainbow Coalition should be one party, but there is no procedure in the Massachusetts General Laws to merge political parties and designations, nor to rename them. Other parties such as the Reform Party, Working Families Party and New Alliance Party no longer exist in Massachusetts or even in the United States.
Our laws should be reasonably updated to deal with the natural life and death of political designations and should ensure that they have access to the list of voters. However, imposing the arbitrary and prohibitive constraint that political designations register 10,000 voters within two years of being approved or be removed is counter to our right to freedom of speech and of association. That a political designation is active and communicates with its voters should be sufficient to keep it from being removed.
We as a society claim to value competition, in fair business dealings or sports for example. Yet, our laws do not adequately support competition in our elections. Having one or two choices on election day is insufficient for a vibrant democracy. Bills such as H.645 and H.640 would expand the choices that voters have. Bills such as H.639, H.638, S.332 and S.334 would reduce voters choices.
I urge you to support bills that would make our democracy more and not less vibrant.