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Everything you need to know about the Massachusetts ballot questions

Volunteers prepared ballots and voting materials in Pittsfield.
Volunteers prepared ballots and voting materials in Pittsfield.Ben Garver/Associated Press


The November election may be two weeks away, but many Massachusetts residents are already casting mail-in ballots, and the first day of early voting was Saturday.

In addition to choosing the president, senators, congressmen and state legislators, voters are being asked to weigh in on two ballot questions: one on the accessibility of motor vehicle data, and another on ranked-choice voting.

Here’s a closer look at the two questions, with insight from Globe reporters.

Question 1: Expanding Massachusetts' Right to Repair law

The question would expand access to mechanical and diagnostic data transmitted wirelessly from a car — known as telematics — for independent auto repair shops and independent dealerships. The question has been the subject of an intense television advertising campaign where both sides warn of dire scenarios should the measure pass or fail. Proponents of the measure argue that it would allow consumers to have greater choice about where to have their vehicles repaired. Opponents say allowing expanded access to such data would present safety concerns.

A “yes” vote would allow expanded access to the data, while a “no” vote would make no changes to the law.

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Read more on the issue:

What’s the tech behind Question 1? By Hiawatha Bray: “Question 1 would require carmakers to explicitly provide independent repair shops and mechanics with remote access to the sophisticated computerized diagnostics built into new autos these days.”

With Question 1, voters must navigate a high-stakes, complex industry battle, report says By Matt Stout: “A ballot question that would expand the state’s so-called Right to Repair law is unlikely to produce immediate, wide-scale benefits for independent mechanics, nor does it appear to expose sensitive personal data such as a car’s GPS location to greater risk of unauthorized disclosure, according to a third-party analysis of the highly complicated initiative.”

Mass. has been pummeled by ads on Question 1. They veer into exaggeration and ‘fearmongering,’ experts say By Matt Stout: “This November, Massachusetts voters are being asked to weigh not only whether to expand the state’s “Right to Repair” law, which gives independent mechanics access to vehicle diagnostic codes, but, seemingly, which dystopian future they most want to avoid.”

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Question 2: Ranked-choice voting

The question asks voters whether to implement a ranked-choice voting system in Massachusetts elections, including those for statewide offices, State House seats, congressional offices, and certain other offices. A ranked-choice system asks voters to rank their preferences among a slate of candidates, rather than choosing one.

If one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate reaches a majority, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated and those who voted for him or her as their first choice will have their second choice counted instead. This process continues until a candidate reaches a majority of votes.

Proponents of ranked choice say it puts greater control over the political system in the hands of voters and ensures election winners have support among a majority of the electorate, rather than a plurality. Opponents say ranked choice is an overly confusing system that asks voters to guess which candidate would survive multiple rounds of voting.

A “yes” vote would implement a ranked-choice voting system, and a “no” vote would make no changes to the law.

Read more on the issue:

Maine’s ‘experiment’ offers evidence of promises kept, still unfulfilled: By Matt Stout: “But two years after ranked-choice elections began there, the statewide system — the only one of its kind in the country — has lived a tangled existence, buffeted by legal challenges and partisan bickering that complicate the road map Maine could otherwise provide to Massachusetts voters.”

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Is ranked-choice voting constitutional? By Matt Stout: “A November ballot question proposing that residents rank their preferred candidates for office would inherently alter Massachusetts elections. Less clear: whether it’s constitutional. As the policy merits of ranked-choice voting loom large ahead of the fall vote, the proposal to restructure how residents pick many of their elected officials would all but undoubtedly invite legal challenges should it clear the ballot box, attorneys and legal scholars say.”

Opinion | Ranked-choice voting is a better way to vote By Elizabeth Warren and Jamie Raskin: “By requiring the winner to reach more than 50 percent of the vote, ranked-choice voting ensures the winning candidate is the one with the broadest appeal to the majority of voters. The ability to mobilize the broadest and deepest appeal across the electorate would replace the ability to target a passionate minority constituency, which may be extreme or nonrepresentative from the standpoint of most voters as the key to winning.”

Opinion | Why ranked choice is the wrong choice By Jeff Jacoby: “In essence, ranked-choice voting gives repeated mulligans to voters who back a loser, while penalizing voters who support just the candidate they prefer and refuse to rank candidates they know they don’t want. Jurisdictions that have adopted ranked-choice voting can end up discarding so many “exhausted” ballots, researchers have found, that the final winner often receives less than a majority of the total votes cast. That certainly undercuts the main argument made by ranked-choice advocates.”

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Why Celtics executive Mike Zarren is working to bring ranked-choice voting to Massachusetts By Adam Himmelsbach: Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren arrived in Orlando Aug. 22 and spent more than a month supporting the players in the NBA bubble. It was an isolated time. But Zarren’s idle hours were filled quickly. In addition to scouring film of draft prospects, communicating with fellow front office members back in Boston, and checking in on his players, he was focused on helping bring ranked-choice voting to Massachusetts.


Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.