THIS GUEST OPINION PIECE BY:

Evan Gendreau is the Republican candidate for state representative in Massachusetts’ 8th
Bristol District, which includes Westport, Fall River, New Bedford and Freetown.

 

On Tuesday, Governor Baker extended the stay-at-home advisory and the 10-person limit on social gatherings to May 4. Social distancing guidelines also remain in place through the end of April, which includes avoiding crowded places and maintaining a distance of at least six feet from others. Public health officials have stressed this will help slow the spread of COVID-19.

As a result, multiple candidates running for office around the state have called on the legislature to make changes to ballot access requirements. For candidates to get on the ballot, they must obtain a certain number of signatures from voters in their respective districts and submit them to local Boards of Registrars for certification by April 28 (May 5 for candidates for federal and statewide offices).

The signature-gathering process involves hundreds, and for some races thousands, of social interactions both door-to-door and at shopping centers and grocery stores. Because of the
COVID-19 pandemic, this puts volunteers, candidates, and voters at risk. Despite continued calls to change the signature requirements, the state legislature has not taken any action.

The legislature’s failure to act is irresponsible given the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the Commonwealth. I have joined other candidates in calling on the legislature to prioritize
public health and change the signature requirements.

A workaround suggested by some in the legislature is mailing nomination papers to voters. It is particularly challenging for first-time grassroots candidates to send out hundreds of nomination papers. Unlike many incumbents with war chests in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, new candidates simply do not have the necessary funds at their disposal to send out such mailers.

Potential solutions, some of which have already been implemented in other states, include lowering the threshold of required signatures, moving the deadline to a later date, or utilizing an electronic signature system. These measures would help reduce the public health risk posed by typical signature-gathering methods.

The Secretary of the Commonwealth is advising campaigns to continue gathering signatures. In the interest of public health and to preserve the fairness of our elections, I am urging lawmakers to take prompt action on this issue before the April 28 submission deadline.

Editor's Note: 'SouthCoast Voices' is a series of guest opinions from newsmakers and other people across the region, on relevant issues that directly impact the people of Greater New Bedford and the surrounding communities. The opinions are solely those of the author. If you are interested in contributing, please contact tim@wbsm.com for more information. 

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