Guest Op-Ed: Fighting for a Spot on Ballot

By Marc Silvestri, Candidate for State Representative, 19th Suffolk

The voters’ ability to choose my name on the ballot for State Rep is being taken away because the laws have not had a chance to catch up with our drastically changed world. The public health concerns associated with everything we do are real, and we live with the risks of contracting a deadly virus simply by talking with one another. Business procedures have changed to reduce that risk, but many legal requirements have not.

Covid has ameliorated all the normal ways in which candidates traditionally obtained signatures to appear on the ballot given that a six-foot distance is required, in-person interactions are discouraged, and large gatherings are unlawful. Yet, the pre-Covid signature requirements are still being enforced. It is my position that the signature expectations should be different than those that existed in pre-pandemic times as safe and equitable access to the ballot is crucial to our democracy.

I, Marc Silvestri, have been impacted by Covid-19 in ways I wish on nobody. Early on, we lost my grandmother to the virus after she contracted it at the Jack Satter House. I’ve had a hands-on view of the pandemic’s impact on our homeless population in my capacity serving on Revere’s Emergency Covid-19 Response Team. My daughters have been attending school remotely for almost a year, which has impacted my family’s ability to work while worrying about our kids at home. The saddest part is that my stories are not unique and many people are likewise experiencing tragedy. Covid-19 has rocked us to our core, and being kept off the ballot because of not securing the pre-pandemic number of certified signatures is just one more thing to add to the list. 

However, the constitutionality of the pre-pandemic signature requirement is not a novel issue, because the Commonwealth’s highest court already addressed it last Spring. Plain and simple, the pre-pandemic signature requirement is not constitutional. In Goldstein et al v. Galvin, the Court agreed with the candidates that “these requirements, when applied in these extraordinary times of a declared state of emergency arising from COVID-19 pandemic, creates an undue burden on prospective candidate’s constitutional right to seek elective office.” In so finding, the SJC offered equitable relief to the candidates in a few different ways; one of which was reducing the number of certified signatures required to appear on the ballot by 50%. However, the Court’s ruling is not being applied to me despite nothing in our world having changed since then, except the spread of Covid-19 is worse now in early January 2021 than it was last year.

To put this in perspective, State Representative Jessica Giannino (the winner of the September 2020 primary) had to obtain half the number of certified signatures for her name to appear on the ballot, and she had between February 11 and May 5, 2020 to do so. Whereas I had 14 days, given the special election schedule, to obtain double the number of certified signatures that Representative Giannino had to obtain in 84 days. How is it fair that my name won’t appear on the ballot when I have more certified signatures than was required for Representative Giannino three months ago?

Deciding to file legal action is not a decision one makes lightly, yet I would be doing a disservice to every resident and business in Winthrop and Revere that falls within the 19th Suffolk District if I chose to bow out of the race without raising a challenge. It is clear that the circumstances are indistinguishable or worse now than they were in April 2020 when Goldstein was decided, and applying the pre-pandemic protocols in the restricted time frame of a Special Election creates an unduly burdensome requirement that infringes on my constitutional right of access to the ballot.

As a candidate for elected office, and one who is seeking a spot on the Commonwealth’s legislative body, constitutionality matters. Fiercely advocating for what I believe is right and just is one of my core values, and has defined me whether it be fighting on the front lines in Afghanistan or working tirelessly to ensure that Revere’s veterans are never overlooked or shortchanged. Backing down now would not be true to myself. 

Marc Silvestri is a Candidate for State Representative, 19th Suffolk.

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