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Should local elections in Massachusetts remain nonpartisan?


Monica MedeirosHandout

Monica Medeiros

Melrose Alderman-at-Large, President, Massachusetts Municipal Councillors’ Association; member, Melrose Republican City Committee

Our local government provides the most basic services we use every day — clean water, safe roads, education for our children, police and fire protection. These services are best provided without partisan politics getting in the way.

Just think of the gridlock at other levels of government. The people in need of the city and town services we offer — police, fire and ambulance — cannot afford that partisan holdup. Potholes know no labels. The desire to lift our kids up and provide them the greatest education possible knows no party.


The qualities we seek in our local elected officials to accomplish those things — commitment, intelligence, compassion, responsiveness — are all hallmarks of a true public servant, but none of them are partisan.

The Secretary of State’s office reports that 55 percent of all registered voters are “unenrolled.” When more than half of registered voters statewide have chosen to disavow party labels and call themselves unenrolled, asking those same voters to choose Democratic and Republican candidates for local office makes little sense.

Nor does it make sense to drive a now independent local elected official to suddenly have to run to the right or the left in search of a political party’s nomination. With that scenario we are bound to see candidates focusing on a set of boutique issues or red herrings in efforts to please a small group of political party activists.

Municipal elections for ward or city councilor, alderman, selectman or school committee member are hyper-local. Voters regularly get the chance to meet and evaluate the candidates directly. Often, they are someone they already know — perhaps their neighbor, their classmate, a parent of their child’s friend, or someone they are involved with in a shared community organization.


In today’s divided world where one cannot open a newspaper, view the feed of a social media account, or simply even turn on the TV without being bombarded with the flames fueled by that day’s partisan skirmishes, we do not need party politics to cloud these relationships.

At the end of the day, locally, we are all neighbors. There is enough bitter partisan rancor in Washington. Let’s let it stay there.


Ted SteinbergHandout

Ted Steinberg

Needham resident, former Congressional Aide; member of Progressive Needham

If a candidate has a party affiliation, voters should know about it.

Omitting a candidate’s party ties from the ballot does nothing to disassociate these local elected officials from the inherently political aspect of their positions. Across the Commonwealth, school committees can create more inclusive curricula, and select boards can dictate investment in sustainable infrastructure. Even if many of their decisions may have no overlap with official party platforms, any way we can enhance voter insight into the values that shape our representatives’ policy-making perspective is worth pursuing.

Your friendly neighbor who serves on Town Meeting may be a wonderful barbecue guest, but they may vote against your values. Voters should be tuned in to any clues that indicate whether or not their interests will truly be represented.

Our democracy relies on an educated electorate, and local elections already suffer from information deprivation. Many of our locally elected positions follow a shorter campaign timeline. Nomination papers typically become available at the start of the year followed by elections only a couple of months later. With less time to campaign comes fewer opportunities for candidates to distinguish themselves other than relying on name identification. Still, residents often struggle to name the members of local elected bodies, let alone the duties of the office. We should provide as much information as possible to help voters make informed decisions.


The hyperpolarization plaguing our political system has little to do with the existence of parties and their placement on the ballot. Rather, it is the way in which our officials conduct themselves, resorting to personal insults while campaigning and treating policy-making functions as a zero-sum game. Democrats and Republicans currently coexist on our local boards; enlightening the public to those party affiliations will not change that. In fact, it would be a productive way to display examples of functioning bipartisanship.

The late House Speaker Tip O’Neill put it best: “All politics is local.” With 55 percent of the Massachusetts electorate unenrolled, candidates focusing solely on partisan talking points while neglecting local issues will suffer on election day. Adding partisan ties to the ballot will not change our representatives’ behavior, it will only keep voters more informed.

This is not a scientific poll. Please vote only once.

Globe correspondent John Laidler solicited opinions for this exchange. He can be reached at