Briefings: The Fattman Sings, but What’s His Tune on Signatures?…
UPDATED 4/16/20 8:53PM: The Senate passed the bill Thursday.
Last week the Massachusetts Senate unveiled plans to cut the number of signatures needed for some candidates to get onto the ballot. The proposal, released by Senate President Karen Spilka’s office, would halve the number of signatures needed for federal offices, county offices and governor’s council. Interest in such a bill arose after the COVID-19 outbreak upended traditional in-person campaigning where signature-gathering often takes place.
While the House has as competing proposal, Governor Charlie Baker had signaled support for the Senate bill, hopes for swift passage of the Senate bill were dashed this week. Ryan Fattman, a Sutton Republican objected to the bill earlier this week, barring its passage on a voice vote. With the Senate operating under informal procedures, the bill could not advance without a vote.
The COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent restrictions came about halfway through the signature-gathering window. As a result, many candidates, including nearly all in contested races in the 413, had obtained the necessary signatures. However, others, including some unopposed incumbents, have not. Last week several candidates for various offices filed suit with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to obtain some relief from the deadlines or signatures thresholds.
The Senate bill would cut the number of signatures candidates for US Senate and House to 5000 and 1000 respectively. Candidates for county office and governor’s council would see their requirements slashed to 500, except in Duke and Nantucket counties where the thresholds are already set much lower.
State and federal candidates would still submit their signatures for verification by April 28 and May 5 respectively.
The decision to omit reps and senators differs from a House bill, that would cut signature requirements for everybody. The State House News Services (SHNS) reported that the House bill would set all signatures requirements to a third of their current level. That would slash the state rep threshold to 50 from 150 and the state senate threshold to 100 from 300. However, the SHNS’s reporting indicated House Speaker Robert DeLeo has yet to show interest in moving any signature bill.
Why Fattman objected to the Senate bill is unclear. He complained in public and in news reports about the bill being assembled without sufficient communication, but has not communicated what he might want changed.
The bill’s sponsor Democratic Senator Joan Lovely, told SHNS her office had consulted with Republican leadership on the bill.
The bill, as written, could provide some relief to the Fattman household, however. Fattman’s wife, Stephanie, is the Worcester County Register of Probate. According to Secretary of State Bill Galvin’s office, John B. Dolan, III, a Democrat, has already qualified for the ballot in that race. By contrast, Stephanie Fattman, also a Republican, has not yet submitted sufficient signature to the secretary’s office.
Although a candidate for state rep is one of the plaintiff in the lawsuit against Secretary Galvin—who administers elections—there does not seem to be as great an appetite to fiddle with the relatively low number of signatures needed to run for the state legislature.
Presumably Senator Fattman is not worried about signature gathering for himself. While incumbent senators from Spilka to local senators like Jo Comerford and Eric Lesser have appealed to supporters to gather signatures, there has been no indication of panic about the senate threshold. In a worst-case scenario, these senators, like Fattman, could mount as write-in campaign in the primary.
That is different for the federal offices. Kevin O’Connor, the lead plaintiff in the suit, is running for the Republican nomination for Senate. He has observed the difficulty in gathering 10,000 signatures (the current amount needed) during the outbreak and has suggested it may have led to his father contracting the disease.
US Senator Ed Markey, who is facing a challenge from Newton Congressman Joe Kennedy, III, has also not obtained the 10,000 signatures needed. However, Markey is relying on his supporter network to reach the threshold. Likewise, many candidate for Kennedy’s seat are at varying points toward the 2000 signature goal in their race.
Legislative action is still possible, but at this pace, the commonwealth’s top court may have its say first. Briefs for the signature suit are due this week.