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Mass. Declines Ranked Choice Voting, Approves Standardized Vehicle Data Access

A voting ward
Jim Levulis
A voting ward

On Election Day, Massachusetts voters embraced a ballot measure that would standardize vehicle data access while rejecting one that would instate a ranked choice voting system in 2022.

The costly battle between automotive service providers and big car companies over Question One was settled Tuesday with 75% of commonwealth voters agreeing that vehicles with telematics systems should have open data platforms for 2022 models onward.

“In 2012, I hope voters remember we voted in favor of the Right To Repair ballot in a record-setting 86%," said Tommy Hickey. "But there was a carve-out in the law, there was a carve-out of any wireless communications, a system called telematics. And right now, this year in 2020, 90% of cars, new cars, have this telematics system. So this ballot initiative closes the loophole, and it gives owners direct access to their wireless diagnostic and repair information.”

Hickey, director of the Right To Repair coalition of independent and local auto parts and repair shops, spoke in favor of the ballot measure on WAMC in October.

“Right now, the car manufacturer, who has a monetary interest in controlling that information, is the only entity who has that information," he said. "And we're saying in this ballot, that's not right, the owner bought the car. Let's give that information directly to the owner of the car.”

Hickey argued that approving the measure would allow the service industry to keep up with the technology of the automotive world and protect jobs in Massachusetts.

“The independent repair and the car owner have to be able to evolve as the car evolves," he told WAMC. "And in a competitive field, if you don't have the best technology, if you don't have up to date information, you lose. Without the law to mandate car manufacturers giving this to independent repair shops, giving this to owners, they won't do it. They'll share with their dealerships, because the end of the day dealerships maximize their bottom line and maximize their profit.”

National auto part companies like Auto Zone and trade organizations like the Auto Care Association spent millions on the Yes campaign – and automakers like General Motors, Toyota, and Ford matched them in pouring money into the No on One campaign. The opposing campaign framed the question around data security concerns, suggesting that an open data platform was ripe for malicious players to prey on. Over $50 million was spent on Question One in total.

Meanwhile, Question Two – the ballot initiative that would instate a ranked choice voting system beginning in 2022 – went down despite wildly lopsided spending from the Yes campaign. Not even a $10 million war chest and endorsements from marquee politicians like Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren could convince voters, who opted against the change in a 55-45 split. The Yes On Two campaign conceded early Wednesday morning. Spokesperson Anthony Amore of the No On 2 committee – which succeeded with a paltry $3,500 in contributions – argued against the measure in an October WAMC interview.

“Ranked choice voting is an overly and unnecessarily complicated system that actually disenfranchises many voters and leads to a vast increase in the number of ballots that are spoiled, which means are discounted in the election," said Amore. "It also takes away the idea of one person one vote, so that in an election in which the ranked choice process is initiated, some people have multiple votes cast, and some people only have one. So it's not a fair system by any means. It doesn't lend itself to simplicity and ease of understanding, which is key to a valid and fair election.”

In Pittsfield – the largest community in Berkshire County – Question One secured over 14,000 “Yes” votes against 6,200 “No” votes, while Question Two failed with around 9,000 in support and over 11,000 against. City turnout was about 72%, or 21,700 of 30,000 registered voters.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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