Why States Matter
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Why States Matter

Why States Matter: A Little-Known, Big-Deal Vote in the Bay State

MA Secretary of State

ttention, Massachusetts residents!

Do you live in Middlesex County (Arlington, Belmont, Brookline, Lexington, Newton, Waltham, Watertown, and others), or in parts of Suffolk or Worcester Counties? If so, there’s a gripping political drama in store for you this September: a Democratic Primary race for the Massachusetts Governor’s Council, Third District!


I know. Who knew that, in addition to nine Congressional districts, 40 State Senatorial districts, and 160 State House districts, the state comprises eight Councillors’ [sic] districts? (Find yours here.)

In fact, the eight members of the MA Governor’s Council, aka the “Executive Council,” have an incredibly important job: each week, they meet to advise the Governor on, basically, everything. They approve the legislative budget. They approve commutations (reduced sentences for criminal convictions) and pardons (reduced punishments for people who’ve served sentences). And, probably most importantly for many of us, they offer “advice and consent” for gubernatorial appointments, including “judges, clerk-magistrates, public administrators, members of the Parole Board, Appellate Tax Board, Industrial Accident Board and Industrial Accident Reviewing Board, notaries, and justices of the peace” (mass.gov).

Each Councillor serves a two-year term. All eight seats are up for election this fall, and while most of the Sept. 6 primaries are uncontested, the Democratic incumbents in Districts 3 & 8 face primary challengers.

Let’s Talk About Judges

Over the past year, we’ve seen how vital an ethical judiciary is to our democracy. We’ve seen judges behaving badly, starting with the Supreme Court and its decision to trash legal precedent and basic constitutional and human rights under the aegis of “originalism.” And we’ve seen judges on the other end of the spectrum, standing strong against on all kinds of election subversion: in our team’s focus state of Pennsylvania, for example, despite repeated GOP objections, federal and state courts recently ruled that “undated mail-in ballots” — ballots validly filled out and received in time but missing a date on the outside envelope — must be counted. (Incredibly, the Election Boards of three PA counties are still refusing to count these ballots. I can’t find data on Board members’ political affiliations, but given that all three counties voted solidly for Trump in 2020, one would surmise…)

PA v. MA

In Pennsylvania, voters elect judges. In Massachusetts, by contrast, judges chosen by the Governor are confirmed (or not) by the Governor’s Council. When it comes to our judiciary, whom we elect as our Councillor matters! In September, the 23-year District 3 incumbent Councillor, Democrat Marilyn Petitto Devaney, will face primary challenger Mara Dolan, a public defender who’s been explicit about the importance of selecting judges who will support women’s legal access to abortion. (NB: MA state legislators recently passed the ROE Act, shoring up protections for abortion providers and patients. When it comes to our bodily autonomy, whom we elect as our state legislators matters!)

I’ll be honest: I haven’t been following this race… but I am now. Councillor Devaney was one of five Councillors who recently voted to confirm a Superior Court Judge who sounded decidedly tepid when questioned re: women’s reproductive rights (“I would be bound to uphold the law” was all the Judge could muster). Mara Dolan, on the other hand, told The Codcast, “Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe versus Wade, it’s essential that everyone working within the criminal justice system and in our court system is 100 percent pro-choice, because we have to protect reproductive rights at absolutely every single level.”

The Bottom Line

“In Massachusetts, we don’t elect our judges,” says Dolan. “But we do elect the people who choose them.” Do your research, choose wisely, and when Primary and Election Days come, fill in all those ballot choices, not just the ones at the top of the ticket. No oval too small!

- Juliet Eastland



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