Why Beacon Hill should support Senator Kennedy’s request: a vacancy of weeks, not months

Yesterday, the media reported that Senator Edward M. Kennedy has called for a change in Massachusetts law to ensure that their is no vacancy should his Senate seat become open.

At MassVOTE, we haven’t hesitated to wrangle with lawmakers when we have disagreed.  We fought former Speaker Tom Finneran over campaign finance reform and filed the federal redistricting lawsuit that ended his tenure.  Pushing election day registration for the past two years has won us many friends, but there are legislators of both parties as an unwelcome risk factor to their re-election campaigns.

MassVOTE cares about a strong democracy — which is exactly why we support this proposal.

Today, we are rolling out our support for Senator Edward Kennedy’s request that state leaders change the succession law to guarantee that Massachusetts will not lack a senator if his seat becomes vacant.

We call upon state legislators to change Massachusetts law to allow for an interim appointment before a special election.   We further agree with Senator Kennedy that should the law be changed, and if ever such an appointment should need to be made, we call on Governor Patrick to appoint a caretaker of upstanding character who will pledge not to run in the special election to follow.

  • At this critical time, the 3.1 million voters of Massachusetts — and our 6.5 million people — cannot be denied one of our two votes in the US Senate.
  • Allowing a vacancy to go unfilled for six months, as current law would have it, is unacceptable.  From climate change to the fixing the economy, the Senate faces important votes in the year ahead.  Massachusetts should not be limited to half of its fair say.
  • For many years, Massachusetts’ beloved senior senator has made the fight to make sure everyone has access to affordable, high-quality health care his signature issue.  Massachusetts legislators have a solemn responsibility to ensure that his legacy is not lost because of a vacancy.
  • In the recent past, Massachusetts has had two different succession laws, both with significant weaknesses.
  • First, state law called for the Governor to appoint a new senator to fill the open seat for the entire rest of the term.  That could deny the people a chance to vote, and mean that an unelected appointee could serve for a period as long as five years or more.
  • A few years ago, state lawmakers changed the law to call instead for a special election to be held within six months of the vacancy.  While this gives the people an essential chance to have an elected, rather than appointed, senator reasonably quickly, it denies Massachusetts its full voting strength in the US Senate for six months.
  • What Senator Kennedy has requested brings together the advantages of both prior laws: it prevents Massachusetts from having a vacancy by allowing a short-term, interim appointment; and it gives the people a chance to a free, fair election for the seat quickly.
  • We believe the senator’s suggested solution is a wise, permanent solution to the problem of vacant statewide seats.

    This is nothing any of us want to contemplate.   We want the our senior senator to return to health and continue his service.  And yet it is because we respect his work so much, and be because we know that his request is wise long-term policy, that the legislature should act on his request immediately.  

    Sincerely,

    Avi Green

    Executive Director

    MassVOTE

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