End the 15 Percent Rule at Massachusetts Party Conventions [OPINION]
Republican and Democratic state party conventions have a hurdle to get on the ballot and it should be abolished. It protects the elite and stops innovation.
It is time for the two major political parties in our Commonwealth to abolish their rules that require a candidate to get a minimum of 15 percent of the delegate votes at their state convention to get on the primary ballot. This rule applies for statewide offices, including governor and United States senator.
I bring this up now, almost two years before it matters, because this rule is below the radar. The activists in both political parties should start discussing this rule now, when there is time to have a serious conversation and make a change if they deem it necessary. This rule is often not discussed until after the conventions, and that leads to frustration and causes well-meaning novice political activists to quit politics altogether.
According to Massachusetts state law, a person must get a minimum of 10,000 certified signatures from qualified voters by a specific date to run for governor or U.S. senator. This applies to all candidates, regardless of the party they are in, and to candidates who aren't enrolled in any political party. It is a fair requirement.
Getting 10,000 certified signatures is not a tremendous hurdle, but it does mean a person has to have at least a few other folks who are willing to go out and assist them in the process. A person who can't get 10,000 voters to sign for them in a state with millions of active voters probably shouldn't be bothering the voters later on when the election gets serious.
But the Republicans and the Democrats in Massachusetts have developed an additional hurdle for their candidates. The two major parties require at least 15 percent of the delegates at their state convention vote in favor of a candidate for the candidate to get on the ballot. If they don't reach 15 percent threshold, they are prohibited from appearing on the party's primary ballot and their campaign is effectively over for that election cycle.
Political parties are voluntary organizations, and they have the right to make their own rules. Someone can choose to run as an "unenrolled" candidate and get on the general election ballot in November by meeting the 10,000 certified signature standard set by state law. And then, sure as you're born, they will lose.
The two parties should toss this rule, because it causes them unnecessary internal strife and frustrates the idealistic rookies who sometimes quit the whole political process.
The rules for all conventions are made by the elected members of the party in the period of time running up to that convention. If a person wants to be involved in the convention, they need to be involved with their party. This is why it is important for a person who is interested in politics to get involved with their local ward/town committee in the time between elections.
In 2012, Elizabeth Warren sought the Democratic Party nomination for the U.S. Senate. She received the nomination and then beat Republican Scott Brown. However, there was a controversy at the 2012 convention. Attorney Marisa DeFranco also wanted to run for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat that year. She exceeded the state's legal requirement for certified signatures by more than 40 percent that year. But at the convention, she was only able to get four percent of the support from the delegates, and therefore was blocked from appearing on the Democratic Party primary ballot.
Attorney DeFranco and her supporters felt they were forced out of the political process by machine politics. She complained in writing that Warren was a bully. It is likely that well-intentioned supporters of DeFranco quit politics and will never return. It is also possible that Liz Warren just outworked DeFranco and beat her fair and square at the convention.
This year, the Republican party had four serious candidates seeking their nomination to take on Senator Warren. One of the candidates, Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai, ultimately decided to drop out of the Republican primary and run as an unenrolled candidate in part because of the 15 percent rule. It becomes very difficult to reach 15 percent when there are four strong candidates seeking one office. The Massachusetts GOP lost out an opportunity to have Dr. Shiva as a participant in their debates and their primary process. Hopefully, the next chair of the Massachusetts party will reach out to Dr. Shiva and encourage him to rejoin the party.
The 2020 election is starting to take form among activists, donors, elected officials, and the political media. There are candidates moving to run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Edward Markey. As the field expands, the 15 percent rule in the Democratic Party could have the same effect it had on the GOP in 2018 and limit the number of candidates. Adding candidates to the pool of unenrolled candidates isn't in the interest of the long-term health of the parties.
The victory of Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley over long-term incumbent Congressman Michael Capuano is likely to inspire more minorities and woman to run for office in 2020. New candidates are the least likely to overcome the 15 percent hurdle at the convention. How will it look if Sen. Markey, "an old white man," is able to block his opponents from getting on the ballot?
Politics is about addition, not subtraction. Dropping the 15 percent rule makes sense for both the Republicans and the Democrats in Massachusetts.
Chris McCarthy is the host of The Chris McCarthy Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Chris_topher_Mc. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.