Is 15% rule at party conventions good or bad for democracy?

Written by Tyler Creighton on February 24, 2014


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(Updated 3/2/14 with letters to the editor in the Boston Globe Sunday edition.)

Every two years in Massachusetts, the state's politicos and journalists enter a familiar debate: Is the 15% rule at party conventions for securing a position on the party's primary ballot democratic or anti-democratic?

Any statewide candidate who wants to be listed on the Democratic ballot first must win support from 15 percent of some 5,000 delegates who are expected to gather at the state convention in June. Delegates are elected at caucuses open to members of the party and held in each of the state's towns and city wards.

Opponents say the system gives "too much power in the hands of activists and takes power away from the people, who never get a chance to vote for candidates deemed unacceptable by Democratic activists." More from Boston Globe columnists Joan Vennochi and Scot Lehigh.

Supporters say it allows parties to maintain "their identity as organizations with different views on the role of government and public policy" and "encourage engagement at the local level in our cities and towns." Peter Ubertaccio, Chair of the Department of Political Science at Stonehill College, elaborates further. And Political Science professor at UMass Boston Maurice Cummingham contends that convention organizing helps build people power in the face of big money in politics.

Michael Jonas at Commonwealth Magazine summarizes the pros and cons nicely here.

On Sunday March 2 the Boston Globe published a series of letters to the editor for and against the 15% rule.

Delegates perform a key, and deliberative, civic function

With five strong hopefuls for governor, bring on the primary

Marisa DeFranco volunteer knows what it's like to be elbowed out

Caucuses a step forward in fostering civic involvement

An open political meeting, not a cabal of "insiders'

Barriers are even greater for third-party candidates

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Voting and Elections, Voting and Elections

Tags: Registration and Voting Systems, Election Modernization

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