Massachusetts voters could make history at the ballot box this fall.
They could elect a historic number of women to the state's top offices. They could amend the state constitution to raise taxes on top earners. They could pave the way for more grocery stores to sell alcohol. And they could affirm or repeal the state's recently passed driver's license eligibility law.
All in all, we could wake up to some big decisions after Election Day on Nov. 8.
Dates to remember:
- Oct. 22 — Early voting begins
- Oct. 29 — Voter registration deadline
- Nov. 1 — Deadline to request mail-in ballot
- Nov. 4 — Early voting ends
- Nov. 8 — Election Day (deadline to postmark mail-in ballots)
The ballot questions
Question 1: The millionaire’s tax
If passed, the proposal would raise the state’s 5% annual flat income tax to 9% on any portion of income above $1 million. The initiative states the extra funds would then be used to invest in transportation and education. (Of course, lawmakers ultimately decide how the money would be spent.)
So, someone who makes $1.2 million would see their first $1 million taxed at the usual 5%, while the $200,000 above that threshold would be taxed at 9%. (The $1 million threshold would also be tweaked each year to increase based on the cost of living.) Most other states also have tiered income tax structures.
Supporters say the tax would provide a much-needed windfall for underfunded transportation systems and schools in a state with such great wealth inequality. Opponents raise the specter that it could cause wealthy individuals — and their tax dollars — to flee the state, especially in the age of easier and more widespread remote work.
Read more about the debate from WBUR's Yasmin Amer.
- A “yes” vote means … you want to increase the tax on the portion of any individual’s annual income above $1 million from 5% to 9%, beginning in 2023.
- A “no” vote means … you want to keep the state’s existing 5% flat tax rate for all income levels.
Question 2: The dental debate
In the health care industry, there’s a rule for something called a “medical loss ratio,” which requires insurance companies to spend a certain percentage of their revenue on medical care — rather than things like overhead, marketing and executive salaries.
Now, voters will decide whether this standard will be expanded in Massachusetts to the dental insurance industry as well.
Question 2 proposes a 83% loss ratio for dental insurers — meaning no less than 83 cents of every dollar paid in premiums must go toward patient care — from cleanings to fillings to gum surgery. Insurers would have to issue rebates to their customers if they don’t reach that standard. They would have to publicly disclose more data about how they spend their money.
The initiative is backed by dentists, who argue that insurers lack accountability and transparency. However, opponents — primarily dental insurance companies — say the rules could cause premiums to rise and force smaller carriers out of the industry. Experts say there may be some truth to this claim, but that the impacts likely won’t be as dramatic as opponents warn.
Read more about the debate from WBUR’s Gabrielle Emanuel.
- A “yes” vote means … you want to support the proposed regulations on dental insurance companies, including the 83% loss ratio. If passed, the new rules would apply to dental plans starting in 2024.
- A “no” vote means … you don’t want to make any changes to the state’s existing dental insurance laws.
Question 3: Packies sell a compromise
Ever wonder why so few Massachusetts grocery stores sell alcohol?
It’s primarily because of a state law capping how many retail alcohol licenses a single company can own. That’s why big chain stores have to pick which locations they want to sell beer, wine or liquor — and why they sometimes stop selling alcohol at one location so they can start selling it at another.
Mom-and-pop package stores have been longtime supporters of the cap, which they say prevents big chains from dominating the market.
However, the packages stores are now backing Question 3, as a compromise proposal to gradually raise the limit — in hopes of forestalling another effort to lift the cap altogether in the near future.
Between now and 2031, it would double the number of locations at which a chain store can sell beer and wine from nine to 18, while reducing the number that can sell beer, wine and liquor (from nine to seven).
Other parts to this question: it would also ban alcohol purchases from being taken through stores’ self-checkout registers, abolish the old state law prohibiting out-of-state IDs for alcohol purchases and effectively ramp up fines on supermarkets and general stores that sell alcohol to minors.
The question is opposed by larger chains like Total Wine (Cumberland Farms has also backed previous efforts to repeal the cap) who want a more “free market” apprach and call the license law “protectionism.”
Read more about the debate from WBUR’s Vanessa Ochavillo.
- A “yes” vote means … you support gradually increasing the beer-and-wine license. It’s also a vote in support of banning alcohol purchases at self-checkout, allowing out-of-state IDs for alcohol purchases and changing how the state fines violators.
- A “no” vote means … you want to make no changes to the law.
Question 4: The driver’s license law
Massachusetts state lawmakers overrode a veto from Gov. Charlie Baker this past June to enact a new law allowing undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses.
Now, opponents of the law are trying to override them back at the ballot box.
A Republican-led campaign gathered enough signatures this summer to put forth the referendum, essentially placing the future of the law in voters’ hands. They argue a driver’s license should be a privilege reserved for lawful residents, and that the new law makes it easier for people to disregard immigration rules.
However, supporters say the law makes the roads safer for everyone by nudging those without legal status — who may be driving anyway — to go through the same road tests and get insurance. There’s also evidence it could reduce the likelihood of hit-and-runs.
Read more about the debate from WBUR’s Walter Wuthmann.
- A “yes” vote means … you want to keep the new driver’s license law in place. It is set to take effect next July.
- A “no” vote means … you want to repeal the law before it takes effect.
How to vote
Remember, make sure you're registered
Are you registered to vote? You can check right here.
If not, the deadline to register is Saturday, Oct. 29.
But don't wait until Halloween weekend; there's nothing scary about the registration process. If you're a U.S. citizen who'll be at least 18 on Election Day and have a Massachusetts driver's license or ID issued by the Registry of Motor Vehicles, you can quickly register (or update your information) online.
If you don't have a state-issued ID, you'll have to fill out a paper registration form and either mail it or deliver it in person to your local election office. (Application forms can be retrieved at that office if you don't have a printer.)
'Tis the season (to request a ballot by mail)
You know what they say about Election Day? The term is fading out of style. Thanks to mail-in ballots and early voting, it's more like voting season now.
In the September primary, nearly half of Massachusetts voters cast mail-in ballots. And officials already have sent out applications for general election mail-in ballots to registered voters.
You also can request a mail-in ballot online. Or download the application form, and mail it or bring it to your local election office. Or literally just sign a piece of blank paper — or napkin, or Halloween candy wrapper — that says "I want a mail-in ballot" and use that.
As long you're already registered to vote, any written request with your signature works. Just get it to your local officials by the Tuesday, Nov. 1 deadline (and make sure to include your address so they know where to send it).
But again, it's best not to procrastinate. Secretary of State Bill Galvin's office suggests sending in your application two to three weeks before Election Day to allow for potential post office delays. According to Galvin's office, most requested mail-in ballots were mailed out by the week of Oct. 10-14, but you can track yours on the state's website (until the ballot is mailed, it will be listed as “pending” if you've applied).
Officials also strongly recommend mailing your ballot back at least one week before Election Day. Any ballot postmarked by Nov. 8 and received by Nov. 12 will be accepted. But if you find the calendar says November and your ballot still isn't in the mail, Galvin's office encourages returning it in person or to a local drop box. (Ballots returned in-person or delivered to drop boxes must be dropped off by 8 p.m. on Election Day.)
You can also track your ballot to see if it's been received here.
Early or Election Day voting, for that in-person experience
Massachusetts will also hold two full weeks of early in-person voting from Saturday, Oct. 22 through Friday, Nov. 4.
State law requires every city and town have at least one early voting location open on each of those 14 days (including the weekends), though smaller communities may have more limited hours. You can check your local early voting location and hours here.
Last but certainly not least, Election Day is Nov. 8. Polls must be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and if you're in line by 8 p.m., you're allowed to vote.
Remember, once your ballot has been accepted — either through the mail or in person — you can't take it back. So choose wisely before making a final decision.
Candidates for district attorney, sheriff and U.S. Congress
WBUR asked Massachusetts candidates running for U.S. Congress, district attorney or county sheriff to answer questions about their campaigns. Here's what they said:
With reporting from WBUR's Jesse Remedios