Voting is a right, not just a privilege.

( – promoted by Rob “EaBo Clipper” Eno)

Last year, more than 27,000 people stepped forward and helped improve our political system.  Those voters established that a state-wide write-in campaign can work – even with very limited resources and an unmistakably first-time candidate.  As a result, in future, we can expect that more will take that path – with the result being that we, as voters, will have more choice.  As a consequence, our system, which is far more important than any candidate, will benefit.

Where there is no choice, the system does not succeed.  Where no one will step forward in opposition to run – in part because of the likelihood of daunting personal attack, there is no choice.  Democracy is not for the timid, yet will not happily endure if running for office necessarily entails an exorbitant personal cost.  In that regard, Martha Coakley, my general election opponent, deserves much credit.  In October, 2010, she was well ahead in the polls and had plenty of resources.  Her victory, however, was hardly assured: the month before, we had done something both unexpected and unprecedented – our last-minute write-in campaign, whose principal resource was good faith, had surprised many by receiving far more than the requisite 10,000 votes.  Those more than 27,000 citizens had insured that there would be a choice in November.

Despite the uncertainty inherent in the foregoing, Martha Coakley went positive.  By not engaging in personal attacks, by not going negative, she made it more likely that, in future, citizens will step forward and run.  In that regard, she made it more likely that, in future, we will have a choice – and the system will succeed.

One context in which our system did not succeed concerned widespread, inexcusable failures to count write-in votes cast during the September, 2010, primary.  For the write-in process to work – and for democracy generally to work, not merely some, but rather all of the votes must be counted.  Remarkably, that did not happen.  Instead, in an unfortunate and resoundingly un-American turn of events, whether your write-in vote was counted often depended on where you happened to live.  

For example, according to the 2010 Massachusetts Election Statistics, released by the Secretary of State’s office, in Brockton 94% of the write-in votes were counted for the candidates (Guy Carbone and myself).  In comparison, in Fall River only 22% of the write-in votes were counted.

The disparity is striking – in Holyoke 88% of the write-in votes were counted, while in Everett officials counted only 28%.  In Lowell, 80% of the votes were counted; in Lawrence, they only counted 23%.  Similarly, in Pittsfield, 91% of the votes were counted; in Springfield they only counted 14%.  While places like Haverhill, Leominster, and Littleton counted all of the write-in votes cast, none of the write-in votes in places like Nantucket, Maynard, and Nahant were counted.

In Boston, 1,535 write-in votes were cast, of which 359 (23%) were counted for the candidates.  There is no excuse for more than 1,000 write-in votes to have gone uncounted in our capital.

While undoubtedly some of the write-in votes cast state-wide in that primary were not for the folks who were running (some folks may have written in their own names, or perhaps that of Mickey Mouse), the dismaying fact is that there likely were thousands of votes that simply were not counted.  

All of this is now of particular urgency given the upcoming special election in 12th Bristol District, which includes parts of New Bedford and Taunton.  There were 202 write-in votes cast in New Bedford, of which the election officials there counted exactly zero for the candidates – and the election officials in Taunton counted less than half of the write-in votes.

I have spoken with several citizens of New Bedford – who voted in that primary.  None of their votes were counted.  We cannot let that stand.  The problem must be identified, and fixed.

As a consequence of the above, I have filed a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.  I trust that, eventually, having done so will help fix whatever problems there are relative to counting our votes.  As a result, the next time a half dozen folks get together in a garage and decide to launch a state-wide write-in campaign, they can know that, regardless of whether they prevail in the election, our system will succeed.  

Very truly yours,

Jim McKenna

About Jim McKenna