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AG Campbell Posts Guidance on Candidate Forums and the Open Meeting Law

Before November’s municipal elections, the Waltham city solicitor issued an opinion that it would be “’potentially problematic’ for elected city officials to participate in discussions at political forums that relate to issues currently before the City Council or its committees,” according to an editorial in the Boston Globe. That opinion put a damper on a candidate forum held by the Waltham LWV, as well as other forums. Waltham had many candidates, including incumbents, running for City Council.

In a Globe letter to the editor, LWVMA asked Attorney General Andrea Campbell to clarify the meaning of the open meeting law as it related to incumbent candidates discussing issues before the board or committee on which they served. 

The Attorney General ruled the open meeting law does not prevent incumbent candidates from making comments to the general public. For her opinion,

“May members of a public body participate in a candidate forum or otherwise share their views with the public on matters currently or likely to come before their public body?

The Open Meeting Law does not restrict an individual’s right to make comments to the general public, particularly as a candidate for office. Rather, it restricts communication between or among a quorum of a public body outside of a meeting; thus, the intent of the public official is an important consideration.  Therefore, a communication directed at the broader public is generally permissible even if a quorum of the speaker’s own public body incidentally hears or reads the communication, as long as the other public body members do not respond.  So, if a member of a public body participates in a candidate forum or a similar public event and other members of that body are attending the forum or event, the member may direct their comments to the public.  In addition, even a quorum of members of a public body may participate in a candidate forum or similar public event, and each share their opinions on a matter that may fall within the public body’s jurisdiction, as long as the members engage only with the public and not with each other.  Therefore, public body members should not direct their comments to their colleagues nor respond to each other’s comments.”

Frequently asked questions about the Open Meeting Law |  and scroll down to “deliberation and electronic communication.”

Note that, if a candidate forum includes two or more incumbents on the same board or committee, these candidates could state their opinions on issues, but they could not debate or respond to each other about those issues.

It’s an issue that might come up during town elections, so it’s good to have this clarified well in advance.

October 2023 Scharfman Grants Awarded to Six Leagues

LWV Melrose:  LWV Melrose was awarded a grant for a voter education forum that was televised live. Melrose has a mayoral election this fall as well as a city council election.

LWV Cape Cod Area: LWV Cape Cod Area was awarded a grant for the first in-person speaker event in the Florence Seldin “Democracy is Not a Spectator Sport” Speaker Series. The  event was held on October 14th  on the topic of “Media, Misinformation and the Protection of Democracy.”  Featured speakers included Dr. Joan Donovan, Assistant Professor of Journalism and Emerging Media Studies, and Dan Kennedy, Professor of Journalism at Northeastern University. The speakers discussed how misinformation is spread and what  consumers of news can do to protect themselves from it and ensure that they don’t disseminate it. The importance of sustaining local news was also discussed. 

LWV Martha’s Vineyard: LWV Martha’s Vineyard was awarded a grant to hold 6 candidate forums; one for each town in Martha’s Vineyard. The forums were open to the public at no cost. The forums were taped and shown on MVTV.

LWV Winchester: LWV Winchester was awarded a grant to purchase a “get out the vote” banner.  The large banner was displayed in a high-traffic location in advance of all elections. This year they had two opportunities to hang the banner: the March 5, 2024 statewide primary and the March 26, 2024 annual town election. 

LWV Westford: LWV Westford was awarded a grant to print town meeting booklets. The 28-page booklet describes the entire process of Westford’s open Town Meeting. It includes sections on the participants, articles and motions, the debate, and voting. It is an invaluable reference for all those who attend Town Meeting. The free Guide is available at Town Meetings, Town Hall, in the library, and at LWV Westford events. 

LWV Hamilton-Wenham: LWV Hamilton Wenham was awarded a grant to  to help support modest honoraria for event speakers on the following topics: Civics 101; Local Print Journalism as a Cornerstone of Democracy; Sustainability; Affordable Housing; Media Literacy; and Water resources & Conservation. Additionally LWVHW is reprinting “Running for Office” booklets that will be available during election season at the Hamilton and Wenham Town Halls. 

November Town Halls:  Membership Dues Changes, Civics Projects

Please join us for two important Town Halls in November

Student Civics Education Projects
Monday, November 13 at 7:00 PM on Zoom

2024 marks the third year of the League’s support, at the state and local level, for the required student-led civics projects in Grade 8 and high school. Several of our local Leagues have made progress in developing a working relationship with their local schools to support these projects. Others have encountered obstacles. 

At the November 13th Town Hall, six local Leagues discussed their experience and answered questions about how other Leagues can begin a partnership with their local schools to support the student civics projects and celebrate student work. We would like to see this project grow to include more Leagues and we are providing a support network to assist you. Please click here to watch the meeting recording. 

Membership Dues Structural Changes
Wednesday, November 29 at 7:00 PM on Zoom

The most up-to-date information on the pending League-wide membership dues changes was presented by Nora Pullen, LWVUS Membership Manager and Kevin Ringcamp, LWVUS Director of Operations.  The presentation was followed by a Q&A. Click here to watch the meeting recording. 

Memo on Provisional Ballots Cast in the 2022 General Election

The Election Modernization Coalition just released a memo analyzing provisional ballot data from the 2022 general election. 
The data from the 2022 statewide general election released to the Massachusetts Election Modernization Coalition by the Secretary of the Commonwealth reveals that two-thirds of provisional ballots cast were rejected and not counted. Analysis reveals that over 99% of these votes might have been counted if same-day voter registration was an option in Massachusetts.
Read the memo here

Day on the Hill: Act for the Future

Thank you to everyone who joined us for a successful Day on the Hill lobby day,  Act for the Future, on Wednesday, October 11.

Many thanks to Senate Majority Leader Cindy Creem for serving as our keynote speaker. Senator Creem is the lead sponsor of our top priority elections and voting bill, the ACCESS Act. Special thanks to Rashelle Centeio from Senator Liz Miranda’s office for briefing us on S.1415, An Act relative to birthing justice.

League members enjoyed productive meetings with their legislators to ask for support for bills in four priority areas:

  • Elections and Voting: S.410, An Act making voting administrative changes to create equitable systemic solutions (ACCESS Act) 
    • H.688, An Act establishing same day registration of voters
    • H.707, An Act decoupling the municipal census from voter registration 
    • H.701, An Act enforcing accessibility for voters with disabilities 
    • H.656, An Act providing uniform mail voting forms 
  • Maternal Health: S.1415, An Act relative to birthing justice
  • Firearms: (H4135, An Act modernizing firearm laws, Senate bill to be filed)
  • PFAS (forever chemicals): H.2197 /S.1356, An Act to protect Massachusetts public health from PFAS

ICYMI: There is still time to contact your legislators in support of our priority legislation. View the information packet for Day on the Hill here. If you reference the firearms legislation, the House has now passed a bill, so you just need to urge your Senator to support a strong firearms bill this session.

See you at our next Day on the Hill in October 2025.