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Stories about Massachusetts

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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Massachusetts to decide “Right to Repair” initiative

Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin reported that 17,596 of the 26,000 signatures submitted for an initiative referred to as Right to Repair were valid, certifying the initiative for the November ballot.

The initiative would require manufacturers that sell vehicles with telematics systems in Massachusetts to equip them with a standardized open data platform beginning with the model year 2022 that vehicle owners and independent repair facilities may access to retrieve mechanical data and run diagnostics through a mobile-based application.

In 2012, Massachusetts voters approved its first “right to repair” initiative that required automobile manufacturers to provide non-proprietary diagnostic information and safety information needed to repair cars directly to consumers and independent repair facilities. The 2012 law required that such information be made available through an “off-the-shelf personal computer.” The initiative was approved with 87.7% of the vote.

Alan Saks, the owner of Dorchester Tire Service and a supporter of the 2020 initiative, said, “We need to update the Right to Repair law before wireless technologies remove the car owner’s right to get their vehicle repaired at our local, independent shop because the automaker would rather steer them towards one of their more expensive dealers.”

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. Right to Repair Massachusetts submitted 103,634 raw signatures on December 4, 2019. The state legislature did not act on the initiative before the May 5, 2020 deadline, requiring the campaign to gather an additional 13,374 signatures (0.5 percent of the votes cast for governor) by July 1, 2020.

On April 26, the four remaining initiative campaigns filed a lawsuit 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.  Right to Repair Massachusetts reported submitting over 26,000 unverified signatures by the July 1 deadline.

The secretary of state also certified the Massachusetts Ranked-Choice Voting Initiative, which 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. Currently, Maine is the only state that uses RCV for state-level elections. Currently, Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the only jurisdiction in the state to use the voting system. Amherst and Easthampton have also adopted the system and are working on implementing it.

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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Signatures submitted for Ranked-Choice Voting and “Right to Repair” initiatives before Massachusetts signature deadline on July 1

The second round of 13,374 signatures needed to qualify for the Massachusetts ballot in November was due July 1. Proponents of the Ranked-Choice Voting Initiative submitted over 25,000 unverified signatures, and proponents of the “Right to Repair” Initiative submitted over 26,000 unverified signatures.
The Ranked-Choice Voting Initiative, sponsored by Voter Choice Massachusetts, would enact ranked-choice voting (RCV) for primary and general elections for state executive officials, state legislators, federal congressional representatives, and certain other offices. As of 2019, one state (Maine) had implemented RCV at the state level. Nine states contained jurisdictions that had implemented RCV at some level. Another four states contained jurisdictions that had adopted but not yet implemented RCV in local elections. If the Ranked-Choice Voting Initiative qualifies for the ballot, it will be the first statewide initiative that did so through the collection of electronic signatures, which were ruled permissible after the campaigns behind four circulating petitions settled a lawsuit with state officials over the use of electronic signatures.
The Massachusetts “Right to Repair” Initiative, sponsored by Right to Repair Massachusetts, would give motor vehicle owners and independent repair facilities access to mechanical data in a vehicle’s on-board diagnostics or telematics system. Tommy Hickey, the director of the campaign, said, “Our independent shops are increasingly facing the prospect of having limited or no access to diagnostic and repair information now that automakers are restricting access through rapidly expanding wireless technologies in vehicles not covered under current law.”
Sponsors of two other initiatives—the Nursing Homes Medicaid Ratemaking Initiative and the Beer and Wine in Food Stores Initiative—did not submit signatures before the July 1 deadline.
The Massachusetts Senior Coalition, which sponsored the Nursing Homes Medicaid Ratemaking Initiative, cited the coronavirus as the cause for not being able to collect the required signatures. The campaign said, “There is no doubt that this outcome was affected by the unique and difficult circumstances under which we were forced to collect signatures.”
On June 28, Cumberland Farms, the sponsor of the Beer and Wine in Food Stores Initiative, announced that it would be suspending its campaign. Matt Durand, chairman of the ballot question committee and the head of public policy at Cumberland Farms, said, “It’s become clear that leading an eight-figure ballot measure campaign is not a prudent course of action at this particular moment in history. Make no mistake: the issue of safe and fair competition in the beverage alcohol marketplace remains a top legislative priority for Cumberland Farms and other food stores, just as it remains an important question of public policy for this Commonwealth.” Cumberland Farms said it would try to put the initiative on the 2022 ballot.
The power of initiative is indirect in Massachusetts, which means the Massachusetts General Court must consider any successful initiative proposals. Of the 10 initiatives cleared for circulation in September 2019, four initiative campaigns submitted the first round of 80,239 signatures on November 20, 2019. The Massachusetts General Court did not act on any of the indirect initiatives before the May 5, 2020 deadline, so the campaigns needed to collect a second round of 13,374 signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
Between 1996 and 2018, about 54 percent (21 of 39) of the total number of measures that appeared on statewide ballots in Massachusetts were approved, and about 46 percent (18 of 39) were defeated.
Ballotpedia has tracked 25 other initiative campaigns that suspended signature gathering activity due to the coronavirus pandemic, 15 lawsuits over signature deadlines and requirements, and three other initiative campaigns that have delayed their efforts to 2022.
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Massachusetts Ranked-Choice Voting Initiative submits second round of signatures ahead of July 1 deadline

On June 17, Voter Choice Massachusetts, which is sponsoring the Massachusetts Ranked-Choice Voting Initiative, announced that it had submitted 25,000 signatures to city and town clerks. For this second round, 13,374 valid signatures are required to qualify for the November ballot.

The initiative would enact ranked-choice voting for elections in Massachusetts, excluding presidential electors, county commissioners, and regional district school committees, as well as elections in caucuses. As of June 2020, Maine was the only state to have adopted and implemented ranked-choice voting at the state level.

RCV is a voting method in which voters rank candidates according to their preferences. A 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, and votes are redistributed in rounds until one candidate has a majority.

Citizens of Massachusetts may initiate legislation through the process of indirect initiative. A first round of signatures equal to 3 percent of the votes cast for governor is required to put an initiative before the legislature. A second round of signatures equal to 0.5 percent of the votes cast for governor in the last election is required to put the measure on the ballot if the legislature rejects or declines to act on a proposed initiated statute.

Campaigns for 2020 Massachusetts initiatives needed to submit 80,239 signatures for the first round by November 20, 2019. Voter Choice Massachusetts submitted 111,268 valid signatures to the Secretary of State. Since the state legislature did not enact the law by May 5, 2020, the campaign moved on to the second round of signature gathering to place the initiative on the November ballot. The campaign needed to submit 13,374 valid signatures by July 1, 2020.

In April 2020, Voter Choice Massachusetts and the other three campaigns gathering a second round of signatures for proposed initiatives—Massachusetts “Right to Repair” Initiative, the Nursing Homes Medicaid Ratemaking Initiative, and the Beer and Wine in Food Stores Initiative—filed a joint lawsuit challenging the state’s prohibition of electronic signatures. The lawsuit argued that the restrictions in place due to the coronavirus pandemic inhibited their right to petition the government. The four campaigns and Secretary of State William Galvin agreed to a resolution that allowed the campaigns to gather the second round of signatures electronically and remotely through mail or email.

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. Together we gathered signatures at a rate of one every two minutes for 40 days in a row, and were fortunate to be able to do the whole drive while keeping everyone safe.”

Between 1996 and 2018, about 54 percent (21 of 39) of the total number of measures that appeared on statewide ballots in Massachusetts were approved, and about 46 percent (18 of 39) were defeated.

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Two Massachusetts selectmen facing recall on June 27

In Kingston, Massachusetts, Selectmen Chairman Josh Warren and Selectman Elaine Fiore are facing a recall election on June 27. Both officials became the subject of a recall campaign stemming from their official response to an incident that occurred in January 2020 between another selectman and a town employee. Recall supporters, led by Kingston resident Peter Boncek, accused Warren and Fiore of nonfeasance and an inability to act in the best interests of their constituents. Warren responded that the board had launched a fact-finding inquiry into the January incident and hired an independent investigator who ultimately found both of the involved parties were at fault.

The recall effort was launched in January 2020 and petitioners successfully collected enough signatures to meet the required threshold of 20% of the town’s registered voters. On February 26, the Kingston Board of Registrars certified 2,053 signatures on Warren’s petition and 2,073 signatures on Fiore’s petition. After neither official resigned from their position, the Kingston Board of Selectman scheduled the recall election for June 27 to coincide with Kingston’s annual town elections.

In this case, the officials subject to a recall election are permitted to run in the replacement election for their seats in the event they are recalled. Both Warren and Fiore chose to run, so challenger Richard Arruda is facing Elaine Fiore in the replacement race for her seat, and challenger Kimberley Emberg is facing Joshua Warren in the replacement race for his seat.

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Three states release guidance for reopening schools

Officials in three states—California, Massachusetts, and North Carolina—released guidance for reopening schools for the 2020-2021 year. Schools in all three states have been closed to in-person instruction since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

So far, schools in four states (Alabama, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming) have reopened to in-person instruction after closing due to the coronavirus pandemic. Three other states have announced they will reopen schools, and officials in four states have released guidance for reopening schools for the 2020-2021 academic year.


Massachusetts enters second phase of reopening

Massachusetts is entering its second phase of reopening on June 8, allowing retail stores and outdoor dining to reopen with capacity and distancing restrictions. Phase Two also allows hotels, amateur and professional sports, personal services (like house cleaning and tutoring services), driving and flight schools, outdoor historical attractions; funeral homes, warehouses, outdoor recreation facilities (like playgrounds and pools), post-secondary schools, day camps, and public libraries to reopen. Businesses like barbershops and salons will remain closed.

The state started reopening on May 18 by allowing manufacturing facilities, construction sites, and places of worship to resume operations.



Special elections being held in two Massachusetts House districts

Special elections are being held on June 2 for the Thirty-seventh Middlesex District and Third Bristol District of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The special elections were originally scheduled on March 31 but were moved to June 2 amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Primaries were held on March 3. The filing deadline for candidates was January 21.

• Danillo Sena (D) and Catherine Clark (R) are running for the Thirty-seventh Middlesex District. The seat became vacant on January 8, when Jennifer Benson (D) resigned to take a job as president of the Alliance for Business Leadership. Benson had represented the district since 2009.
• Carol Doherty (D) and Kelly Dooner (R) are running for the Third Bristol District. The seat became vacant after Representative Shaunna O’Connell (R) resigned on January 6, after being elected mayor of Taunton, Massachusetts. O’Connell had represented the district since 2011.

Heading into the special elections, Democrats have a 125-31 majority in the Massachusetts House with one independent member and three vacancies. Massachusetts has a divided government, and no political party holds a state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

Special elections were held on May 19 for the Second Hampden & Hampshire District and Plymouth & Barnstable District of the Massachusetts State Senate. Both seats flipped from Republican control to Democratic control as a result of the special elections. Four seats have flipped as a result of state legislative special elections this year.

As of May, 43 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2020 in 20 states. Between 2011 and 2019, an average of 77 special elections took place each year.

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Massachusetts governor to detail reopening plan

At a press conference scheduled for 11:00 a.m. Eastern, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) is expected to provide further information about the state’s reopening plan. The state’s stay-at-home order is set to expire today.

Last Monday, Baker unveiled a four-phase plan for reopening Massachusetts. Under Phase 1 (“Start”), limited industries will be permitted to reopen, subject to restrictions. In Phase 2 (“Cautious”), additional industries will be permitted to reopen, subject to restrictions and capacity limits. Under Phase 3 (“Vigilant”), more industries will be allowed to reopen, subject to guidance. In phase 4 (“New Normal”), which is contingent on the development of a vaccine and/or therapeutic treatment, normal activities may resume. The plan did not elaborate on specific effective dates or contingencies for phases 1, 2, or 3.

Massachusetts is one of six states that have yet to begin implementing a reopening plan. The others are Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, Illinois, and South Dakota. The remaining 44 states have partially or completely lifted restrictions on three or more industries.



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