Q: Why do you REALLY want to do this?
A: We strongly believe that Massachusetts residents deserve to know how their elected officials have voted. Because we believe that the Democratic State Party Platform epitomizes the kinds of values and positions that ought to guide elected officials, we have used it as a yardstick against which the votes of those elected officials are measured.
Being a Democrat ought to stand for something. When used as a roadmap for governing, the Party Platform is an eloquent statement of what being a Massachusetts Democrat is all about. To the extent that it is ignored by elected Democrats – or invisible to the electorate – it offers potential voters little reason to affiliate with the Democratic Party. To the extent that our Platform truly defines what it means to be a Democrat, we believe that it can breathe new life into the Party, and reverse the tendency of even progressive voters to register as unenrolled (now 51%), rather than joining the Democratic Party.
That isn’t to say that sometimes pragmatism must always stand aside for idealism. Sometimes, the values underlying Party Platform aren’t the only factors in a decision on how to vote. We don’t expect Democrats to march lock-step with the Platform. Our Scorecard gives elected officials the opportunity to explain their votes, and to inform residents about the complex issues that helped shape their decisions.
Q: How do ‘values’ get involved with this?
A: The Democratic Party Platform is the statement of values of the Democratic Party, and the policy prescriptions that follow from those values. We believe in the values expressed in the Platform, and we trust the voters of Massachusetts to vote for candidates who generally support those values with their legislative votes.
Q: Can’t people find voting records in the newspapers?
A: In theory yes, in practice no. The newspapers publish votes as they occur. People care about votes at election time. You would have to save up two years’ worth of newspapers and then carefully inspect them before the election, to review your legislator’s votes. And you’d have to know how to interpret those votes too. Understanding some of the more complex votes requires more information than is sometimes available in the newspaper. Is a vote against a flawed prescription drug plan a “good” vote or a “bad” vote? What were the choices available to the legislator? How flawed was the plan? Would it have been better than the status quo?
Q: Aren’t voting records public information?
A: In theory yes, in practice no. You have to go to the State House and ask the House Clerk’s office for voting records to get the official record. Then you have to read the House Journal and Senate Journal to understand who voted on what. Then you have to refer to the original bill and the amendment texts to figure out what the vote is about. Simply presenting voting records is meaningless — it’s the interpretation that matters. It’s also about inconvenience — no one wants to go to the State House to figure out how their Rep or Senator voted.
Q: Aren’t voting records on the Internet?
A: In theory yes, in practice no. The unofficial versions are posted at www.mass.gov/legis under “House Journals” and “Senate Journals”. But they make mistakes. Take a look, for example, at the only Internet version of the Constitutional Convention vote on gay marriage for Feb. 11 2004. Vote #522, the one we use on the Mass Scorecard, shows Viriato deMacedo and John Lepper voting both with the Yeas and with the Nays. These two representatives did not vote twice — the record is wrong. Now go check out the House Journal for July 19 2002, and click on the link that says “See Yea and Nay No. 389 in Supplement.” That’s supposed to be the voting record for a vote on July 19, 2002, but in fact it brings up the voting record for July 17 2003. This is not an isolated error — every voting record from 2002 links to the wrong vote (the corresponding rollcall vote number from 2003). For 2004, that problem was “solved” by simply not posting the rollcall votes on the Internet at all. As of Sept. 1, 2004, the only rollcall votes posted on the House Journals for 2004 are for one day, April 26. All the rest of the votes are not on the Internet at all (we obtained a copy and posted them all on our Legislation Records page).
Q: So the Mass Scorecard is about presenting vote information?
A: Yes, that’s one of our objectives. Vote information is important enough that it’s routinely done at the federal level. The federal government makes rollcall votes and a brief interpretation available to the public via the Library of Congress website. That does not occur in Massachusetts, and it should. But in addition to presenting key votes, we also relate them to the Democratic platform, which provides a meaningful context for voters.
Q: Should voters reject any legislators who don’t adhere to the platform?
A: Voters should support or oppose elected officials based on how their votes compare with how the voters feel about different issues. We don’t expect that all Democratic Party members support all of the planks of the platform. And, as we noted earlier, some issues involve a lot more complexity than is possible to reflect in a relatively straightforward Platform document. Sometimes a vote that looks like it contradicts an element of the Platform is really a vote that Platform proponents can support. Sometimes, protecting the interests of his/her constituents motivates a legislator to vote against a Platform position. For these reasons, we stayed away from simply assigning each legislator a score based on their adherence to the Platform, and instead listed each vote separately. We also made a decision to create a mechanism within the Scorecard website allowing legislators the opportunity to explain their votes, so that members of the electorate could make truly informed decisions about how to cast their ballots. For example, Sen. Stan Rosenberg commented on one of his votes on which he disagreed with our interpretation. All senators and reps are welcome to add their own comments, simply by emailing us.
Q: So, you don’t want every legislator to score 100%?
A: We don’t expect any legislator to vote in accord with the platform on every issue, as the party leadership claims we want. We expect legislators to vote their consciences on issues important to them. There are very few legislators who voted according to the platform on every rollcall vote listed on the Mass Scorecard, and we consider even those just a coincidence based on the votes we selected for this session. What we want is that legislators be proud of their voting record and tell the public about it, and that Democrats be proud of their platform and tell the public about it.
Q: Why do you keep on saying ‘party leadership’?
A: Because we feel that the rank-and-file of the Democratic Party support us, while the party leadership does not. We have already received a vote of 60% support at the 2003 Convention. And we spent the spring of 2004 seeking endorsements from Democratic Town and City Committees, which represent the regular membership of the Democratic Party. Where we have presented our case, the local committees have generally supported us either unanimously or near-unanimously. We have collected several thousand signatures on petitions of support for implementing the Mass Scorecard (you can sign by filling in a supportive comment on our sign-up form.)
Q: What’s the party leadership’s view?
A: They call us “uncooperative” and “impatient.” We’ll let you decide if we have cooperated. After the Accountability Amendment passed, we created a sample Mass Scorecard and met with the Party Chair (Phil Johnston) several times in the summer of 2003. He listened, and offered numerous constructive suggestions, which we implemented, and he also vetted our choice of which votes to include as part of the Scorecard. We met with several State Reps and Democratic State Committee members who vetted our vote selections and provided advice, which we followed as well. We met with the Democratic Party’s Public Policy Committee, the Democratic Party’s Charter Amendment Committee, the Democratic Party’s Platform Support Card Committee created for this purpose — and we always listened and implemented their suggestions. With the 2004 primary elections approaching, we pushed for implementation, and the party leadership responded by removing our representatives from their committees. You can determine whose attitude is uncooperative by viewing a video of a debate between our representatives and the party leadership. We have consistently shown flexibility in the methods for implementing the Mass Scorecard, even when we considered the compromises to be below what the Accountability Amendment called for. We have consistently stated that we would consider any official party-based implementation to be acceptable as long as it was implemented in time for the 2004 primaries. The party leadership understood our position and decided not to cooperate and not to implement the Mass Scorecard. So we implemented our own version of the Scorecard (and chose to include a few “tougher” votes, as well).
Q: What about being patient?
A: The Accountability Amendment passed the convention vote with a March 1 implementation deadline. We reminded the party leadership of this deadline repeatedly over the course of the year. We made a deal with the party leadership to extend the deadline to September 1, still in time for the 2004 primaries. When the party leadership still failed to implement the Mass Scorecard by September 1, we released a version ourselves. Some more details on the timeline of events, which we believe demonstrate beyond any doubt that we have been more than patient:
- In December 2003, Party Chair Phil Johnston assigned responsibility to the Public Policy Committee to implement the scorecard.
- One of our representatives, Jesse Gordon, was appointed to that committee — and we presented the Mass Scorecard at a Public Policy Committee meeting in January.
- Concerned that the Public Policy Committee would not meet the March 1 deadline in the Accountability Amendment, we recruited people to run as delegates to the 2004 Convention (those people were elected at the Feb. 2004 caucuses).
- We formally proposed a Charter Amendment to implement the Mass Scorecard (a Charter Amendment is legally binding. The Accountability Amendment is instead a policy recommendation). We presented our case to the Charter Committee, which could have approved the amendment for a vote at the June 2004 convention. The Party Charter Committee listened attentively, asked questions for over an hour, and then voted unanimously to reject the Charter Amendment.
- The alternative approach to call for a Charter Amendment at the June 2004 state Convention was to gather 500 delegate signatures, which is the same process we followed for the Accountability Amendment in 2003. After rejection by the Charter Committee, we began collecting delegate signatures.
- Between the Feb. 2004 caucuses and the May 8 State Convention, we asked repeatedly for the Party leadership to schedule meetings of the Public Policy Committee and the new Platform Support Card Committee. (Did we tell you that we agreed to re-name the Scorecard as the Platform Support Card and to eliminate the bottom-line scores, so that elected officials wouldn’t feel as if they were being graded? Although that represented a change from the original Convention mandate, we agreed that simply scoring legislators would compromise the purpose of the website, which was to provide the kind of voter information that is otherwise impossible to come by.) No such meetings were scheduled, on the grounds that four members of the Platform Support Card Committee still needed to be selected (we offered many more than four volunteers).
- At the May 8 State Convention, the Party leadership broke three promises about the Mass Scorecard.
- To announce the Scorecard and its intended implementation date of Sept. 1 from the Convention podium.
- To announce the membership of the Platform Support Card Committee on the day of the Convention.
- To announce the meeting schedule of the Platform Support Card Committee on the day of the Convention.
None of these three promises were met that day. We called them on it, and they finally called a meeting of the Platform Support Card Committee.
- By the end of July it had become apparent that the Platform Support Card Committee would not meet the September 1 deadline. We asked to have a vote on the mMass Scorecard at the August meeting of the Democratic State Committee, and when the Party leadership declined, we prepared to release the Mass Scorecard on our own.
Q: But the party leadership says they ARE implementing it?
A: After it became apparent to the party leadership that we might actually succeed at passing a Charter Amendment (which can be legally enforced) they offered us a deal: a two-year trial for the Mass Scorecard, with the vote selection and interpretation by them. We accepted as long as they committed to implementation by Sept. 1. You can view the written agreement signed by the chair of the Public Policy Committee. They did not agree in writing to a September 1 deadline — but we consistently told them that our goal was implementation in time for the September 14 primaries. Without that, a 2-year trial would be meaningless.
Q: Why is it important to include the Democratic primaries?
A: Primary elections provide an opportunity for Democratic candidates to compete with one another for our votes. As members of the Democratic party, we think that these elections are our best opportunities to choose the people who will represent our communities. Once the general election comes around, Democrats have only one good choice on the ballot.
Q: Are primary candidates included in this year’s Scorecard?
A: This first year we were only able to include information about incumbents, because we were able to access and collate their voting records. Without the Democratic Party’s involvement, we were unable to ask other primary candidates how they WOULD have voted, had they been in office this past year. With the Party’s future involvement, we intend to include all primary candidates in the next election cycle.
Q: How do I help?
A: First, sign up on our e-mail list. Second, join one of our coalition organizations or help us directly with volunteer labor. Third, write in support of the Mass Scorecard. Fourth, we accept donations.
Q: How can I help build the Mass Scorecard?
A: We are an all-volunteer coalition and could use your help. If you are interested in working on the Mass Scorecard, please contact us at MassScorecard@MassScorecard.org . If you would like to write a letter of support, send an e-mail to that same address.