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Stories about Massachusetts

Support and opposition committees for Massachusetts Question 1 (“Right to Repair Law” initiative) reported $34.8 million in combined contributions

Updated on Sept. 19, 2020

Massachusetts voters will decide Question 1 on Nov. 3. The initiative would require manufacturers that sell vehicles with telematics systems in Massachusetts to equip them with a standardized open data platform beginning with model year 2022. The platform would need to allow vehicle owners and independent repair facilities may access to retrieve mechanical data and run diagnostics through a mobile-based application.

The Right to Repair Coalition, the sponsors of Massachusetts Question 1, reported receiving over $9.2 million in its August report. The committee reported spending $6.7 million. The largest contributors to the support committee were the Coalition of Automotive Repair Equality ($3.1 million) and the Auto Care Association ($2.6 million).

The top-five largest contributors to the support committee were 

  • the Coalition of Automotive Repair Equality ($3.1 million)
  • the Auto Care Association ($2.6 million), 
  • Advance Auto Parts ($1 million),
  • Auto Zone ($1 million), and
  • O’Reilly Auto Parts ($1 million).

The Coalition for Safe and Secure Data, the committee registered in opposition to Massachusetts Question 1, reported receiving $25.6 million in contributions in its latest campaign finance report filed September 4. The committee had spent over $6.8 million. Fifteen automobile manufacturers and two automotive trade organizations contributed to the committee. The following were the top five contributors to the committee:

  • General Motors ($5.5 million)
  • Toyota Motor North America, Inc ($4.5 million)
  • Ford Motor Company ($4.5 million)
  • American Honda Motor Co., Inc ($3.0 million)
  • Nissan North America, Inc. ($2.4 million)

The next campaign finance reports are due Sept. 21.

The first “right to repair law” was approved by the Massachusetts General Assembly and signed into law on Nov. 26, 2013. The 2013 law reconciled the differences between Question 1 (2012), which was approved by 87.7% of voters, and the alternative version resulting from a legislative compromise approved on July 31, 2012. Since the legislative compromise was passed after the July 3 signature deadline, the 2012 initiative could not be removed from the ballot after qualifying.

The 2013 “right to repair law” exempts telematics systems from wireless accessibility by vehicle owners and independent repair facilities. Under Question 1 (2020), Telematics systems would be accessible through a mobile device application and could be used by independent repair facilities to access data and send commands to the system for repair, maintenance, and diagnostic testing.

According to the Right to Repair Coalition, the group proposed the 2020 initiative to update the previous law. Barry Steinberg, the owner of Direct Tire in Watertown and a member of the Right to Repair Coalition, said, “Massachusetts voters voted 86% in 2012 to require car companies to give access to repair information and diagnostics. But now big auto is using the next generation of wireless technology to get around our law, shut out independent repair shops, and cost car owners more money. That’s not what we voted for.”

The Coalition for Safe and Secure Data argued the measure would dangerously expand access to car data. Conor Yunits, the spokesman for the Coalition for Safe and Secure Data, said, “This ballot question will create easy opportunities for strangers, hackers and criminals to access consumer vehicles and personal driving data–including real-time location. It will put people at risk, without doing anything to improve the consumer experience.”

Massachusetts is the only state that has adopted a “right to repair law.” During the 2019-2020 legislative session, none of the 17 states that introduced a “right to repair law” had approved it.

Massachusetts voters will also be deciding on an initiative that would enact ranked-choice voting for primary and general elections for state executive officials, state legislators, congressional and senate seats, and certain county offices beginning in 2022.

So far, Ballotpedia has tracked a total of $572.4 million in contributions to and $228.1 million in expenditures by campaigns supporting or opposing the 123 2020 statewide measures. The following five states have the most ballot measure campaign finance activity reported so far:
California – $316.8 million in contributions
Illinois – $80.4 million in contributions
Massachusetts – $38.8 million in contributions
Florida – $28.4 million in contributions
Colorado – $23.4 million in contributions

A previous version of this article stated that the support committee, the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition, had received $5.7 million in contributions and did not list Advance Auto Parts, Auto Zone, or O’Reilly Auto Parts as top donors. That version was based on original campaign finance report filings. Those reports were subsequently amended by the committee to include, among other contributions and expenditures, contributions of $1 million each from Advance Auto Parts, Auto Zone, or O’Reilly Auto Parts. This article was adjusted on Sept. 19 to account for the campaign finance report amendments.

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Death of Massachusetts chief justice creates second vacancy on state supreme court

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants died while in office on September 14, 2020, causing a second vacancy in the state’s court of last resort. The other vacancy will occur on December 1, 2020, when Supreme Judicial Court Justice Barbara Lenk is scheduled to retire from the court, one day prior to reaching the court’s mandatory retirement age of 70 years old.

Chief Justice Gants was appointed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court by Governor Deval Patrick (D) in 2008 to replace retired Justice John Greaney. Gants assumed office on January 29, 2009. On April 17, 2014, Justice Gants was nominated by Gov. Patrick to serve as the chief justice of the court, effective following Chief Justice Roderick Ireland’s retirement on July 25, 2014. Gants’ term was scheduled to expire in 2024.

Chief Justice Gants earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College in 1976. He earned a diploma in criminology at Cambridge University in England. He earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1980. Gants served as a note editor with the Harvard Law Review.

The seven justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court are appointed by the governor and approved by the governor’s council. The Governor’s Council, also referred to as the Executive Council, is a governmental body that is constitutionally authorized to approve judicial appointments. The council consists of eight members who are elected every two years from each of the eight council districts. Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court justices hold tenured appointments until they reach 70 years old, the age of mandatory retirement.

Founded in 1692, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is the state’s court of last resort and has seven judgeships. The court is the oldest continuously functioning appellate court in the Western Hemisphere. Originally called the Superior Court of Judicature, it was established in 1692. The court was renamed the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court by the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780.

Following Gants’ death, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court included the following members:
• Barbara Lenk – Appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick (D) in 2011
• Frank M. Gaziano – Appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker (R) in 2016
• David A. Lowy – Appointed by Gov. Baker (R) in 2016
• Kimberly S. Budd – Appointed by Gov. Baker (R) in 2016
• Elspeth Cypher – Appointed by Gov. Baker (R) in 2017

• Scott Kafker – Appointed by Gov. Baker (R) in 2017

In 2020, there have been 21 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. One vacancy occurred when a chief justice died, and 20 vacancies were caused by retirements. Twelve vacancies are in states where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement. Eight are in states where a Republican governor appoints the replacement. One vacancy is in a state where the state supreme court votes to appoint the replacement.

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Voters decide state legislative primaries in Massachusetts

Massachusetts held its statewide primary on September 1, 2020. There were 200 state legislative seats on the ballot, 40 in the state Senate and 160 in the state House. Candidates competed to advance to the general election on November 3, 2020.

As of September 3, several races were still too close to call. In the state House, 145 incumbents filed for re-election, and all 40 incumbents in the state Senate filed for re-election. At least two incumbents were defeated in the primary across the two chambers. In the 17th Middlesex District of the state House, Vanna Howard defeated incumbent David Nangle and Lisa Arnold in the Democratic primary. In the state Senate’s Hampden District, Adam Gomez defeated incumbent James Welch in the Democratic primary. Neither Howard nor Gomez face Republican opposition in the general election.

Massachusetts has a divided government in which no political party holds a state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when a political party holds both the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. Although Democrats hold a majority in both chambers, Massachusetts elected Republican Gov. Charlie Baker in 2014.

The next two primaries in the 2020 election cycle are on September 8 in New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

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Recall fails against select board member in Reading, Massachusetts

On September 1, a recall election was held for Reading Select Board Member Vanessa Alvarado in Massachusetts. Unofficial results showed that the recall election was unsuccessful, with 5,641 votes against the recall to 3,831 votes in favor of the recall. Results will become official after they are certified by town officials.

The recall effort against Alvarado began in February 2020 and was based on allegations that Alvarado impeded the hiring of a new police chief in her role as board chair. Alvarado denied the allegations, arguing that she was trying to provide open, public discussion about the police chief’s appointment and did nothing to violate the town charter.

Petitioners were required to obtain 2,000 signatures from Reading’s registered voters in order to put the recall on the ballot. In March 2020, Reading’s board of registrars certified 2,239 signatures.

Because the recall election was unsuccessful, Alvarado will retain her position on the Reading Select Board. She is serving the final year of her three-year term and is eligible to run for re-election in April 2021.

In 2019, Ballotpedia covered a total of 151 recall efforts against 230 elected officials. Of the 66 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 34 were recalled for a rate of 52%. That was lower than the 63% rate and 57% rate for 2018 and 2017 recalls, respectively.

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Incumbent Neal wins Democratic nomination in Massachusetts’ 1st Congressional District

Image of several stickers with the words "I voted"

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard Neal defeated Alex Morse in the Democratic primary in Massachusetts’ 1st Congressional District. With 87% of precincts reporting, Neal received 59.1% of the vote to Morse’s 40.9%.

Neal was first elected in 1988 and has served as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee since 2019. He cited addressing coronavirus and its impact on the economy as key issues in the race. Morse is the mayor of Holyoke. He was first elected in 2012. In a Candidate Connection survey he submitted to Ballotpedia, he said, “For too long, our government has worked for the rich and the well-connected, and not so well for everyday people.”

Neal received endorsements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), and the American Federation of Teachers during the primary.

No Republicans are running for the seat, meaning Neal will face independent Frederick Mayock in the general election. Neal previously faced Mayock in 2016, receiving 73% of the vote to Mayock’s 18%.



Markey defeats Kennedy in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts

Incumbent U.S. Sen. Ed Markey defeated U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. With 82% of the precincts reporting, Markey had received 55.6% of the vote to Kennedy’s 44.5%.

Markey served in the U.S. House from 1976 until he was elected to the Senate in a 2013 special election after John Kerry was confirmed as Secretary of State. Markey went on to win a full term in 2014. Throughout the campaign, he highlighted his legislative record such as his co-sponsorship of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) Medicare for All bill and co-authorship of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) Green New Deal.

Markey received endorsements from Ocasio-Cortez, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Working Families Party.

Markey will face Kevin O’Connor (R) in the general election. Markey was most recently re-elected in 2014 with 59% of the vote. The most recent time Massachusetts elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate was 2010 when Scott Brown (R) won a special election with 52% of the vote.



Voters to decide Massachusetts’ congressional primaries

The statewide primary election for Massachusetts is on September 1, 2020. The filing deadline to run passed on June 2. Candidates are running in elections for the following congressional offices:
• One Class II seat in the United States Senate

• Nine seats in the United States House of Representatives

Candidates are competing to advance to the general election scheduled for November 3, 2020.

In the Democratic primary race for the Class II U.S. Senate seat, incumbent Edward Markey—first elected in 2013—faces challenger Joseph Kennedy III, while the Republican primary features candidates Shiva Ayyadurai and Kevin O’Connor.

Across the nine U.S. House district races in Massachusetts, eight incumbents filed for re-election. Only District 4 incumbent Joseph Kennedy III is not seeking re-election, opting instead to run for the U.S. Senate seat. The open District 4 seat has drawn a field of nine Democratic primary candidates and two Republican primary candidates.

In Districts 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, and 9, the Democratic incumbents are running unopposed. In District 8, the Democratic incumbent faces one challenger. In Districts 2, 5, 6, and 9, the Republican candidates are uncontested, while the Republican primaries in districts 1, 3, 7, and 8 were canceled after no candidate either filed or qualified for the ballot.

The next congressional primaries will be held on September 8 in New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

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Massachusetts voters to decide state executive, legislative primaries on September 1

The statewide primary election for Massachusetts is on September 1, 2020. The filing deadline to run passed on June 2. Candidates are running in elections for the following state executive and state legislative offices:
• Massachusetts Governor’s Council (all eight seats)
• State Senate (all 40 seats)

• State House (all 160 seats)

Candidates are competing to advance to the general election scheduled for November 3, 2020. The next statewide primaries will be held on September 8 in New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

Ballotpedia is also covering congressional elections in Massachusetts and local elections in Suffolk County, Massachusetts. Boston is the county seat of Suffolk County.

Entering the 2020 election, the Massachusetts Governor’s Council has seven Democratic Party members and one vacant seat. The state legislature, called the Massachusetts General Court, has 36 Democrats and four Republicans in the state Senate, and 127 Democrats, 31 Republicans, and one independent member in the state House.

Massachusetts has a divided government. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers.



Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court justice set to retire in August 2020

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice Barbara Lenk is retiring on August 17, 2020. Lenk reached the court’s mandatory retirement age of 70 years old.

On April 4, 2011, Governor Patrick nominated Lenk for a seat on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. She was confirmed by the Governor’s Council on May 4, 2011. Lenk was the first openly gay justice on the court. She previously served as a Massachusetts Superior Court judge from 1993 to 1995, and as a Massachusetts Appeals Court judge from 1995 to 2011.

Justice Lenk earned a bachelor’s degree from Fordham University in 1972 and a Ph.D. in political philosophy from Yale University in 1978. She earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1979.

The seven justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court are appointed by the governor and approved by the governor’s council. The Governor’s Council, also referred to as the Executive Council, is a governmental body that is constitutionally authorized to approve judicial appointments. The council consists of eight members who are elected every two years from each of the eight council districts. Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court justices hold tenured appointments until they reach 70 years old, the age of mandatory retirement.

Founded in 1692, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is the state’s court of last resort. The court is the oldest continuously functioning appellate court in the Western Hemisphere. Originally called the Superior Court of Judicature, it was established in 1692. The court was renamed the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court by the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780.

The current chief of the court is Ralph D. Gants, who was appointed to the court by Gov. Deval Patrick (D) in 2009. He was nominated by Gov. Patrick to serve as the chief justice of the court in 2014. The remaining five justices of the court are:
• Frank M. Gaziano – Appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker (R) in 2016
• David A. Lowy – Appointed by Gov. Baker (R) in 2016
• Kimberly S. Budd – Appointed by Gov. Baker (R) in 2016
• Elspeth Cypher – Appointed by Gov. Baker (R) in 2017

• Scott Kafker – Appointed by Gov. Baker (R) in 2017

In 2020, there have been 18 supreme court vacancies in 15 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were caused by retirements. Twelve vacancies are in states where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement. Five are in states where a Republican governor appoints the replacement. One vacancy is in a state where the state supreme court votes to appoint the replacement.

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Massachusetts voters will decide on ranked-choice voting initiative in November

Voter Choice for Massachusetts, the campaign sponsoring the ranked-choice voting initiative, announced on Twitter on July 10 that Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin had certified the initiative for the November ballot. The secretary of state confirmed that 17,512 of the 25,000 signatures submitted for the second deadline were valid. A total of 13,374 valid signatures was required.

The Massachusetts Ranked-Choice Voting Initiative would enact ranked-choice voting (RCV) for primary and general elections for state executive officials, state legislators, federal congressional and senate seats, and certain county offices beginning in 2022.

RCV is a voting method in which voters rank candidates according to their preferences. The candidate that receives a majority of first-preference votes is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First-preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, and the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots are tallied as their first preference in the following round. The process is continued until a candidate wins a simple majority (50%+1) of the vote.

As of 2020, Maine was the only state to use RCV for state-level elections. Currently, Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the only jurisdiction in the state to have used the voting system. Amherst and Easthampton have also adopted the system and are working on implementing it.

Voters in Alaska will also decide a ranked-choice voting initiative in November, and proponents of RCV initiatives in Arkansas and North Dakota submitted signatures in early July to qualify their measures for the November ballot.

The power of initiative is indirect in Massachusetts, which means the Massachusetts General Court must consider any successful initiative proposals. Petitions targeting the 2020 ballot had to first be cleared for circulation by the state attorney general before submitting the first round of 80,239 signatures (3 percent of the votes cast for governor in the last election) by December 4, 2019.  Of the 10 initiatives cleared for circulation in September 2019, four initiatives submitted the first round of signatures. Voter Choice for Massachusetts reported submitting 111,268 raw signatures.

The Massachusetts General Court did not act on any of the indirect initiatives by the May 5, 2020 deadline, requiring the four remaining campaigns to submit a second round of signatures (0.5 percent of the votes cast for governor) by July 1, 2020.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent restrictions on social gatherings, the four campaigns filed a joint lawsuit on April 26 against the secretary of state asking the Supreme Judicial Court to allow the campaigns to gather the second round of 13,347 signatures electronically.

On April 29, all four active ballot initiative campaigns and Secretary Galvin agreed to a resolution that allowed the campaigns to gather the second round of signatures electronically. Campaigns distributed the petitions online to be electronically signed or printed and mailed back to the respective campaign.

On June 17, 2020, Voter Choice for Massachusetts announced that it had submitted over 25,000 raw signatures for the second round. In the press release from Voter Choice Massachusetts, Cara Brown McCormick, a senior advisor to the campaign, said, “This was the first electronic signature drive to get a citizen’s initiative on the ballot in American history.”

The secretary of state also certified the Massachusetts “Right to Repair” Initiative, which would expand the access to telematics systems for vehicle owners and independent repair shops. Massachusetts voters approved a “right to repair” initiative in 2012. Proponents of the 2020 initiative argue that the 2012 law needs to be updated to account for recent technological advances.

Between 1996 and 2018, an average of three measures appeared on the ballot in Massachusetts during even-numbered election years. A total of 39 measures appeared during that period with 54% of the measures approved.

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