High Court Ruling Exposes Lack of Character in Massachusetts Legislature
NewBostonPost - 4/20/2020
The coronavirus pandemic has transformed the way we live, work, socialize, and educate our children. The pandemic has been an invisible adversary threatening people’s health and livelihood. It has also provided a tremendous obstacle to candidates trying to gather nomination signatures to run for public office.
The nomination process in ordinary times is labor-intensive and time-consuming. It requires candidates and those working on their behalf to solicit signatures outside grocery stores, post offices, and in other public gathering areas. The process requires candidates to obtain signatures from their respective parties and unenrolled voters. Once a candidate feels confident the candidate has attained enough signatures that qualify as certifiable, the candidate then submits them to a local Town Clerk’s office, which examines the signatures and may disqualify many of them for not matching those of registered voters.
What is normally a difficult process got close to impossible in March when the coronavirus emergency hit. Collecting signatures in person became difficult and dangerous, putting public safety in jeopardy. The only safe way to get signatures was through U.S. mail – a difficult task for challengers who don’t have organizations and name recognition that an incumbent has.
Yet the House and Senate leadership in the Massachusetts Legislature didn’t seem to care. For weeks they did nothing. When they finally got close to doing something last week, their measure would have helped candidates for some offices but not candidates for the state Legislature. In other words, they failed to put public safety ahead of political expediency. They chose to protect incumbent politicians.
In March, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kevin O’Connor and two other plaintiffs seeking political office filed complaints with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court seeking relief from state election requirements that were jeopardizing their right to fairly seek elected office during the coronavirus pandemic. On Friday, April 17, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, cutting in half the number of signatures needed to get on the ballot and extending the deadlines to get them for state offices a week, to May 5, which aligns with the federal-office deadline.
Chief Justice Ralph Gants wrote: “No fair-minded person can dispute that the fundamental right to run for elective office has been unconstitutionally burdened or interfered with by the need to obtain the required ‘wet’ signatures in the midst of this pandemic.”
The court ruling additionally allows for modern-day usage of electronic signatures – a logical and common-sense remedy; however, the legislature surely will not adopt this idea for all future elections, as this approach would be far too practical and efficient to implement.
Friday’s Supreme Judicial Court ruling averted a miscarriage of justice. Fair relief was given to the three plaintiffs and various candidates seeking political office throughout Massachusetts. Justice was served. Our checks-and-balances system worked.
But what can we say about the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate? Where
is their sense of justice?
Crisis doesn’t create character; crisis exposes whether someone possesses character.
Summer Schmaling is a resident of Halifax, Massachusetts and a current Republican candidate for the Twelfth Plymouth District of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, which includes the towns of Kingston, Halifax, and Plympton, and portions of Plymouth, Middleborough, and Duxbury.