When she dropped out of the gubernatorial race in February, Democrat Danielle Allen didn’t mince words about the state’s onerous and unfair rules that make it extremely difficult for candidates to even qualify for the primary. “There is no excuse for ballot access procedures that push out qualified but nontraditional candidates and rob the people of Massachusetts of real choice on their ballot,” said Allen, who would have been the first Black woman governor if elected.
Getting on the ballot is tough — way too tough. And that deprives voters of choices, which are the lifeblood of democracy. This year, it may be a close call whether Democratic primary voters have any choice at all: Attorney General Maura Healey enjoys overwhelming support from party activists, and it’s an open question whether her sole remaining opponent, state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, will garner the required support of 15 percent of delegates at the party’s convention next month in Worcester in order to qualify for the ballot.
Chang-Díaz says she expects to qualify, and here’s hoping she’s right. Even those who aren’t inclined to support Chang-Díaz should be able to agree that she belongs on the ballot. A longstanding progressive senator from Boston, she’s a serious candidate. If the Democrats keep one of the paltry number of women of color in the Legislature off the ballot in favor of a white politician, they’ll not only deprive voters of a choice, but also prove Allen’s point that the ballot rules sideline people from diverse backgrounds.
In Massachusetts, candidates from major parties have to obtain thousands of signatures and clear the 15 percent threshold at the state party’s convention. That effectively makes delegates chosen at local party caucuses the gatekeepers. As a practical matter, it means that a candidate has to win enough municipal party caucuses — often little known, sparsely attended affairs — to qualify; even a candidate with support from 15 percent of a party’s members could easily fail to make the cut.
There are similar hurdles for candidates for other statewide offices, including lieutenant governor. And at times where there’s an incumbent running for reelection, the 15 percent bar becomes even more daunting. It’s just one of the ways that electoral rules in Massachusetts are highly favorable to incumbents, including listing incumbents first on many ballots, allowing incumbents to roll over campaign war chests, and holding municipal elections in odd-numbered years when turnout is almost invariably lower.
Other elected positions — including local offices in Massachusetts — are much easier to seek. And while it’s easy to snicker at California’s 53-candidate recall ballot last year, or oddities like Pat Payaso, the clown who ran for Boston City Council in 2017, having a few fringe candidates is a price well worth paying for more democratic ballot rules.
The Commonwealth’s rules are overdue for reform, especially at a time when voter suppression is heating up across the country. Hopefully future candidates for governor won’t have to overcome the same barriers that doomed Allen’s candidacy and that create such an unnecessary hurdle for Chang-Díaz’s.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.