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Rep. Smitty Pignatelli: It’s time to rethink Democratic state convention

Election 2022 Massachusetts Democrats

Delegates listen to a speech by Sen. Elizabeth Warren on June 4, during the state's Democratic party convention in Worcester.

Earlier this week, I sent a letter to Gus Bickford, chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, expressing my concern with the 15 percent threshold at the state convention required for statewide candidates to get on the state primary ballot.

According to the rules of the convention, any candidate who does not receive at least 15 percent of delegates’ votes on the first ballot shall not be eligible for placement on the primary ballot. The existing requirement for statewide candidates to obtain 10,000 signatures is no small feat, and it is discouraging to see a body composed of individuals who are not representative of the statewide electorate bring hard-run campaigns to an end.

While the convention is certainly not lacking in fanfare and excitement, the convention electorate is composed of the most politically active and interested voters and is not reflective of the people who will be voting in the actual elections. I believe that any candidate who collects the required number of signatures should be able to see their efforts through to the September primary.

The presumed rationale behind the 15 percent rule is to ensure that a sufficient majority is reached during the election. A viable solution to address this problem is for our commonwealth to implement ranked-choice voting, both at the convention and during our elections. I have filed legislation (H.825) that would establish an option to institute ranked-choice voting in local elections. This system provides voters with an equitable process to express their candidate preferences and achieve a representative majority. As candidates select their preference in ranked order, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who picked that candidate as their first choice will have their votes count for their next choice. This process continues until there is a majority winner or a candidate who wins with more than half of the vote.

In a moment where voting rights and access are under attack throughout our nation, Massachusetts can lead on this front and ensure that our elections indisputably represent the will of the people.

The 15 percent threshold is inherently undemocratic, and I sincerely hope that the state party reevaluates this requirement. Our voters deserve diverse candidate choices, from diverse backgrounds and lived experiences, when they enter the voting booth. There are so many barriers to entry that exist when it comes to running for office — especially in terms of campaign fundraising — and it is downright disheartening to watch candidates with comprehensive policy platforms cut their runs short. Let us take this opportunity to be bold and refuse to accept the status quo because it is the way things have always been done.

As the birthplace of our democracy, Massachusetts should relish the chance to lead on fulfilling the very promise of democracy. I am committed to using my position to advocate for this needed change, and I hope my colleagues across the commonwealth will do the same.

Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli represents the 4th Berkshire District in the state House of Representatives.

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