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Senators Polled on Clean Elections
Poll of the Massachusetts Senate
Position on Amendment 500, Repeal of Clean Elections, adopted May 29, 2003
CODE FOR RESPONSES:
Y= aye (to repeal)
N= nay (not to repeal)
X = did not reveal position
Voice Votes Make Accountability Difficult
by John Andrews
Legislative bodies often use voice votes to speed their work. But voice votes are normally used for relatively non-controversial measures or for routine procedural matters. When a voice vote is used to pass major legislation, it often prevents constituents from determining whether their elected officials actually represented their best interests.
Finding out how Massachusetts Senate voted on the Clean Elections repeal was not easy. MCHC volunteers made almost 200 telephone calls and sent out 20 email queries to produce the poll results above. We were able to talk directly to about six senators. In the other cases, the response came from legislative aides.
The offices of five senators simply refused to provide an answer. One aide told us that “No one is supposed to know how you vote when its a voice vote.”
Seven offices simply kept promising to have someone call us back, but they never did.
Aids to two different senators told us that the Senate President didn’t really listen to the results of the actual voice vote on the floor because “the sense of the Senate had already been decided in the (Democratic Party) caucus.” When asked if it was proper for an act of the legislature to be decided in a closed door meeting that excluded elected legislators and the public, no answer was received. Such a process raises the specter of a voice vote in which nays are in the majority, yet the Senate President declares that the ayes win because of a vote cast in a previous private meeting.
Some senators tried to defend the repeal of Clean Elections with arguments that were contradictory, showed ignorance of the actual Clean Elections Law, or had been conclusively refuted by experience. Some senators said that the small amount of money needed for Clean Elections was unaffordable – even though it amounts to less than one one-hundredth of the tax breaks the Legislature has awarded to the special interests who fund their campaigns. No senator articulated what most observers say is the major reason for their opposition to Clean Elections: Incumbents enjoy a tremendous fundraising advantage over challengers and this helps almost 70% of Massachusetts incumbents run unopposed. The need for public hearings to better inform the Senate and the public on the merits and implications of the Law was obvious.
MCHC is continuing to ask the senators that did not reveal their position on Amendment 500 to make their position known. The poll results will be updated each time a senator replies. We hope that the Senate leadership will come to understand how the abuse of the democratic process injures their credibility and erodes the confidence of voters in the Legislature. When critical decisions are being made, the voters of Massachusetts deserve to know that their elected officials represented their best interests. Our democracy cannot function when openness and accountability are sacrificed for political expediency.