Election 2016: The Ballot Questions


The national news on Tuesday was quite grim (I didn’t actually learn the ultimate results until Wednesday morning, avoiding the news late Tuesday night for the sake of mental health). And although those results have left me—and many of you, I’m sure—feeling rather hopeless, the results in Massachusetts earlier in the night can give some grounds for hope.

Here, I’m talking about the ballot questions. On all four statewide ballot questions, the progressive position won: the Progressive Massachusetts endorsed #NNYY. Massachusetts said no to expanding slots gaming, no to a rapid expansion of charter schools, yes to protecting farm animals, and yes to legalizing recreational marijuana and rolling back the drug war. The importance of these victories should not be lost on us.

Question 1 (slots) was always expected to fail, and Question 3 (farm animals) was always expected to pass. Question 4 (retail marijuana) had been trending to victory as well. Question 2 (lifting charter cap), however, was always expected to be close. Some recent polls had it tied, or with only narrow leads for the NO side. Earlier this year, Question 2 looked like it would pass easily.

And "Yes on Question 2" definitely had the money to achieve that victory.

As of late October, the YES side was outspending the NO side by over $6 million, with 82% of its money out-of-state (largely New York-based hedge fund managers and their ilk) and 76% of it dark money. On ballot questions, the side that spends more money almost always wins.

But here, the people won—and with a crushing victory, too. NO on Question 2 prevailed by a vote of 62-38, winning almost every city and town across the state with the exception of a handful of wealthy suburbs.

The success of Save Our Public Schools can serve as a testament to the power of grassroots organizing.

SOPS assembled a diverse coalition of groups committed to social justice and, because of the work of this coalition, was able to secure the endorsement of a majority of the State Legislature, most mayors, and more than 200 school committees. Parents, teachers, students, union members, electeds, and community members across the state spent months making phone calls, knocking on doors, and educating their friends and neighbors with a clear message about the importance of protecting our schools and investing in all our children.

Education funding can be a complicated issue, but we realized that, if we could just get our message to people, it would click. Those countless one-on-one conversations are key to organizing.  

The Save Our Public Schools campaign energized many parents and students to be more vocal and to stand up for what they know is right—and helped them build skills to continue the fight.

To paraphrase MTA president Barbara Madeloni, this wasn’t just a victory for Massachusetts, but a victory for all the teachers, parents, students, and union workers who wanted to know if we could beat big money. And the fight doesn’t end with Question 2, which was always defensive in nature. We need to continue to organize to make sure that we invest in all our children and fight to reclaim democracy and the commons. We’ve only just begun.


Jonathan Cohn is a Progressive Mass member and is co-chair of the Elections and Endorsement Committee. In the 2016 campaign season, he has spent hundreds of hours volunteering for the progressive candidates and campaigns endorsed by Progressive Mass members.

For information on state legislative election results, visit our Elections page.


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