City, Coronavirus, News, Politics

A look at current Mass. politics amid pandemic and partisan turmoil

The political scene in Massachusetts is in for a shake-up in the coming months. From the potential widespread use of mail-in ballots to a contested U.S. Senate seat, here’s a guide to current politics in Boston and the Commonwealth — as well as a look at what’s next.

Polling station in Concord, New Hampshire. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, voting may look different this year for high-risk voters in Massachusetts if a bill allowing the use of mail-in ballots passes in the state’s Senate. SOPHIE PARK/ DFP FILE

How Voting May Change in 2020

Voting accessibility during a pandemic can be a challenge for those at higher risk of contracting disease if they travel in person to the polls.

To combat low voter turnout and maintain safe access to the ballot, Massachusetts Sen. Cynthia Creem, Democrat for First Middlesex and Norfolk, proposed a bill. Having passed in the House and now awaiting Senate approval, this legislation allows high-risk voters to utilize mail-in ballots through December 31.

“It is critical that we not make people choose between their health and their right to vote,” Creem wrote in an email to The Daily Free Press. “Providing voters with expanded opportunities to vote early and vote by mail are proven methods that will help to ensure a strong voter turnout.”

The bill, if enacted, will exact costs of implementation and pose a burden on local election officials, however Creem wrote it’s important all constituents who wish to participate in democracy are given a fair opportunity to do so.

“In these unprecedented times, it is critical that we work together, and in a bipartisan manner,” Creem wrote, “to find the resources to ensure every person who wants to vote has access to the ballot.”

Where Massachusetts Lies on the Partisan Spectrum

Massachusetts is a notoriously blue state, and Boston a well-known liberal hub. The state’s most recent voter registration data reveals 33 percent of Massachusetts voters identify as Democrat, 10 percent as Republican and 56 percent have no affiliation, with the remaining 1 percent enrolled in other parties.

Despite his party affiliation, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker is well into his second term. He held the title of most popular governor in the nation from September 2016 to January 2020, but is still ranked No. 3, according to the latest quarterly gubernatorial ratings released by data research company Morning Consult.

Massachusetts state Sen. Patrick O’Connor, who is running for re-election in Plymouth and Norfolk, said the definition of Republican is different in Massachusetts than in more conservative states.

“I would consider myself a very Northeastern Republican… we enjoy working across the aisle,” O’Connor said in an interview. “I try to gear my policy towards what I think will provide stronger communities that I represent and try to really help people and lead people towards living a better life.”

Massachusetts is ranked the most liberal state in America and Boston the fifth most liberal city, according to the World Population Review.

In the 2016 presidential election, more than 60 percent of the state’s voters cast their ballot for Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to data from Politico.

Super Tuesday this year, however, saw Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren lose in her home state, trailing behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, who won the state.

U.S. Senate Seat for the Taking

One U.S. Senate seat is opening for Massachusetts this fall. A primary election will occur on Sept. 1 to determine which Democratic candidate will run to represent the state in November.

The race is between incumbent Sen. Ed Markey and U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts’s 4th Congressional District. So far, the two have faced off in three televised debates.

Markey, endorsed by Warren and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1976 until 2013, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate for the first time.

Kennedy, endorsed by U.S. Rep. John Lewis and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, promotes several liberal campaign goals similar to those on Markey’s platform. Although both are progressive Democrats, Kennedy, 39, is vying for generational change against Markey, 73.

Political analysts predict a tight race between the two candidates. The general Senate election will take place on Nov. 3.

A Glimpse Into Local Government

The City of Boston is composed of nine districts, each represented by one City Councilor. These representatives, in addition to the four at-large Councilors, make up the 13-member Boston City Council.

Councilor Kenzie Bok represents District 8, which encompasses Boston University. Bok said in an interview she hopes her policies will make Boston a more equitable and affordable city to live in.

“It’s amazing to me that it could be at BU or at the [Harvard] Longwood Medical Campus that we find the [COVID-19] vaccine,” Bok said. “At the same time, I have young people growing up in Mission Hill, who are extremely short walks from these facilities, who aren’t able to unlock access.”

Bok said Boston is a “great city,” but it struggles with income inequality. One of the Councilor’s main goals is to supply more affordable housing.

“It’s important for us to provide that path, a pathway into housing that people can afford,” Bok said. “So students who come here want to stay.”

One of the most vibrant college towns in the nation, Boston is a city that attracts young minds. Bok said “so many talented students” who want to stay after finishing school are often unable to as already high rents continue to rise.

Inequitable access to housing and transportation throughout the city are issues that have plagued Boston for years, and contribute to gentrification of the city’s neighborhoods. But consistency in policy, Bok said, is key to enacting real change.

“It can make us despair to be like, ‘How do I fix this all at once?’” Bok said. “There are so many things that we build up through deliberate policy over the years, and so we have to dismantle them and reorient them through deliberate policymaking.”

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