If you have ever wondered why the Massachusetts legislature is opaque and lethargic, it is a function of the state’s electoral system. Legislators view themselves as immune to any kind of political pressure to get anything done because they are immune to political pressure.
Consider these facts about Massachusetts elections:
- There are 218 seats (US Senate & House, MA Senate & House, Governor’s Council) on the state ballot in 2020. Prior to the primary, we had 345 candidates file for places on the ballot, roughly 1.6 candidates per seat.
- The September primary eliminated 61 candidates, including nine candidates seeking the MA-04 congressional prize, who were sent home a week before Labor Day. Ballots are now being printed with 284 candidates seeking 218 seats, roughly 1.3 candidates per seat. 18 seats have no Democratic candidate on the ballot, while 152 seats have no Republican. The Green-Rainbow and Libertarian parties are recognized under state election law, and we print primary ballots for these parties in every precinct in the Commonwealth, yet the only candidate on any of these ballots is running for state representative in the Twelfth Worcester district.
- In 28 districts, where Democrats had a primary with multiple candidates, the September 1 primary eliminated all competition, creating an uncontested race in November. This included five districts in which Democrats had three or four candidates on the primary ballot.
- Democrats had 161 candidates who were uncontested in the primary; 30 primaries featured two candidates. Only 9 races had three or more candidates, and 4 of these had winners receive more than 50% of the vote. The Republicans had 152 seats without a candidate, 60 races with one candidate, and only 6 races had two candidates. There were no Republican primaries with three or more candidates.
How do we fix this?
How do we bring better outcomes in a state that averages 1.3 candidates per seat on the November ballot? Move the primary to May? Adopt a top two primary, so we don’t eliminate all competition in the Democratic primary? Make voting and voter registration easier? Of course not. We put a Ranked Choice Voting question on the ballot.
Actually, we didn’t really put this on the ballot. Texas billionaire John D. Arnold provided the money to put this on the ballot. Mr. Arnold and his wife created Action Now Initiative, a 501(c)(4) organization based in Houston, Texas, that contributed $3,038,850 of the $5.6 million raised by Voter Choice Massachusetts. Voter Choice Massachusetts spent $274,356.81 to collect 111,268 certified signatures to put RCV on the November ballot, that’s $2.47 per signature.
Who is this dark money Texan?
John D. Arnold was an Enron trader, who took an $8 million bonus days before Enron’s bankruptcy. He used that bonus to start an energy trading hedge fund, Centaurus Advisors, LLC. He retired from hedge funding, and is now an advocacy philanthropist, dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into 501(c)(4) SuperPACs. His worth in excess of $3 billion, and gave more than $100 million for charter school advocacy. He spent $250,ooo of that money to support the ballot question to lift the Massachusetts charter school cap in 2016.
Professor Maurice Cunningham was on the Arnold’s money trail in 2018, when they created the Patients for Affordable Drugs Action Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee. The Arnolds were the only contributor to this SuperPAC, and all of their expenditures benefited the re-election campaign of Governor Charles Duane Baker III.
In a state with an average of 1.3 candidates per seat, in a state badly in need of significant ballot reforms, why is Ranked Choice Voting the option in front of the voters? Because… Texas hedge fund guyJohn D. Arnold paid to put it there.