fb-pixel Skip to main content

In an age of election denialism, the Legislature needs clear rules for seating members

The House has legitimate authority to halt or delay the swearing-in of candidates in contested races but should adopt clear guidelines governing when that power is used.

House Speaker Ronald Mariano took to the podium on Aug. 9.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

What a difference a decade makes. Years ago, the decision to delay the seating of two state lawmakers who won by slim margins in an election that gave Democrats their largest majority in recent memory would have been, at best, seen as a minor hiccup for the party.

The difference between a supermajority and a super-duper-majority is not exactly high political drama.

But in an era when election denialism has become rampant, thanks to the ongoing, antidemocratic rhetoric of former president Donald Trump and his devotees, that same situation has spurred frustration and anger — and even worse, it has opened the door to claims of unfairness and election denialism.


There is no reason to believe that Speaker Ronald Mariano’s decision to halt the swearing-in of Kristin Kassner of the Second Essex District, who won by one vote, and Margaret Scarsdale of the First Middlesex District, who had a seven-vote margin of victory, was in any way a gift to election deniers. Even those who disagree with the Quincy Democrat’s decision to have a special legislative panel “thoroughly review the last minute legal issues raised in each race, and affirm the results of each election” should not equate that move with antidemocratic efforts to flout the will of voters by overturning election results. That is as unfair as it is dangerous.

The current uproar is due largely to two factors: The decision was a discretionary one, and it was a rare — if by no means unprecedented — action to take.

But the controversy the decision spurred makes clear that there needs to be a set of rules in place that govern how these situations should be handled in order to bring about more transparency and consistency. Voters should be confident that the right thing is being done, every time, regardless of the political climate.


There will be close elections, some with the thinnest of margins. And there will sometimes be election irregularities that deserve full investigation and vetting. The Legislature, which is tasked by the state constitution with being the final arbiter of who get seated in the State House, should therefore have clear, understandable rule for what happens in those situations.

One solution is to make the review by the legislative panel mandatory when election results are within a certain thin margin or when the results are the subject of a lawful, good-faith challenge. That way spurious challenges can be dispensed with quickly and the winner of the election can be swiftly seated. It would also allow quick action on credible claims of irregularities so any problems can be addressed. Transparency is the best disinfectant for election denialism, and when rules are clear, voters can have greater trust in the system.

In the meantime, the panel should be allowed to do its work and make a decision as quickly as possible. It should also be transparent and fully explain the reasoning of that decision. Voters in Middlesex and Essex counties and throughout the Commonwealth deserve to have trust in the process. Lawmakers must set clear rules, show their work, and earn Bay Staters’ confidence.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.