Ballot question issues in Massachusetts over the years have been difficult for the last several elections, but this time around one ballot question is taking a completely new and confusing turn in its promotion.
On Question 1, those in the battle aren’t advocating for or against the measure, but rather they are arguing to skip the question all together.
The Right to Repair ballot question is taking on new territory this time around due to the fact that opponents are not asking people to vote it down, but rather they’re asking them to not vote on it at all.
The opposition group to the ballot question (Question 1), Committee for Safe and Fair Repair, has put together a media campaign in recent weeks to Skip Question One – specifically because the Legislature recently passed a law that partially addresses the issue.
“The Right to Repair law is a victory for everyone,” said Harry-Jacques
Pierre, a spokesperson for the coalition group. “Consumers and
independent repairers benefit because information and tools will always
be made available for purchase. Automaker innovation and intellectual
property and dealer investments are protected.”
However, it’s not quite that simple.
The precarious position came due to the fact that the ballot question became certified in July in order to let the people vote on the Right to Repair issue – which calls for automakers to share repair information with independent repair shops. In the meantime, at the end of the last legislative session this past summer – after certification – the state legislature voted in a compromise bill that addressed the issue.
Art Kinsman, of the Massachusetts Right to Repair Committee, said that they are pleased with the bill, but skipping the question is not what voters tell him they want to do.
“In all honesty, it was like if someone owes you $100 and they come to you and say they have $95 for you and will likely never have $100,” he said. “You simply take the $95. It’s a very good law that was passed. This battle has been fought for 13 years in several states and across the country and this is the very first time we’ve gotten automakers to pull up their tents and go along with it. We’re in a little bit of an unusual situation that hasn’t happened in modern history really, because we already have a good solution in place before the ballot question vote.”
However, that doesn’t mean that Kinsman and his Committee agree with skipping the question. He said that after the bill passed, they began going out to educate the voters on the new law and its relationship to the ballot question.
He found that people did not care about the law and were interested in voting for the more stringent ballot question.
“We found that without exception, people wanted to vote on the question,” he said. “The whole ‘Skip It’ message really confused people and in some cases infuriated them. Many wanted to put their stamp of approval on it. To tell people not to vote on something didn’t quite work here in this state.”
Kinsman said that the ballot question has some important differences from the law.
First and foremost is the fact that the law does not apply to heavy trucks or motorcycles.
“The definition of a motor vehicle is much broader in the ballot question,” he said. “Motorcycles for one, are not covered by the law. RVs and bigger trucks are also not included…If you’re a motorcycle owner or a business person or a municipality with a fleet, that’s important to contemplate when voting.”
Another less important difference is the penalties for those dealers that do not comply with the law. While the ballot question allows dealers to get suspended from selling cars if they don’t comply, the law did not go that far.
“That’s a pretty tough penalty and one thing we essentially gave up as a concession to auto dealers in the last days of negotiating the law that passed,” he said.
The idea behind the ‘Skip It’ campaign is that if fewer than 30 percent of voters vote on the question, then it fails and is not certified. No matter if the total votes come out in favor, if that 30 percent threshold isn’t met, the question fails.
Said Kinsman, “The ‘Skip It’ message is perhaps a failed experiment that kind of goes against people’s sense of things. People want to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I think maybe this says to the legislature, if it passes, to take a second look at these other vehicles and that they perhaps they shouldn’t be left out.”