POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica
Run, If You Can
by David Trumbull
April 10, 2009
“Is government by the people and for the people, or is government by the Boston City Councillors and for the Boston City Councillors?” – That’s the question raised by Althea Garrison in a press release earlier this year and it refers to the increase, from 500 to 1,500, in the number of nomination signatures required to run for At-Large Councillor.
Althea is herself running for City Councillor in the Seventh District (Dorchester and Roxbury) against indicted Councillor Chuck Turner. The change does not apply to the district race so the number of nominations signatures that Althea needs is unchanged. However she is harmed by the change, as is every Boston voter, as the new higher signature requirement will mean fewer choices. Minority candidates – racial minorities, political minorities, anyone out of the main stream – will find it difficult to collect the required number of signatures.
The signature requirement – that is to say, the question of ballot access – is an important but little discussed issue. Elections are not free if the current office holders can hinder challengers from getting on the ballot. And that is what the change is all about. Actually, the 1,500-signature hurdle is a reversion to an old standard that was scrapped in the interest of opening up the electoral process. Althea Garrison was a Republican Representative in the General Court back in 1993 and served on the Election Law Committee. She was a backer then of a successful bill to lower the number from 1,500 to 500. She attests that the law was changed to encourage more minorities to run for at-large city council seats.
I know something of the difficulty of minority candidates trying to meet signature requirements. I’m running for State Representative in the Third Suffolk District (North End, Beacon Hill, Downtown, Chinatown, Bay Village, and South End). As a political minority – a Republican – getting 150 certified signatures of Republican and Unenrolled voters was a challenge. I made it. But it took a monumental effort and total suspension of other campaign activities for two weeks. That’s one of the reasons we have so few contested races in Massachusetts – in 2008 no Republican ran for State Representative or State Senate in any of the 25 districts in Suffolk County – the work needed just to get on the ballot is too great.
I’m pleased to see that Althea is not alone in raising the issue of disenfranchisement of voters. Kevin McCrea has thrown his hat in the ring for mayor and he, also, is addressing ballot access as part of a broader focus on transparency and good government.
[David Trumbull is the chairman of the Boston Ward Three Republican Committee. Boston's Ward Three includes the North End, West End, part of Beacon Hill, downtown, waterfront, Chinatown, and part of the South End.]