The monsoon-like weather that washed across the Commonwealth didn’t keep 3,554 delegates from attending the 2012 Democratic State Convention in Springfield today. The biggest story will have to be the mammoth vote for Elizabeth Warren – she got 95.77% of the delegates – and the concurrent failure of Marisa DeFranco to get the votes of at least 15% of the delegates – she got 4% – which means DeFranco will not appear on the ballot in the Democratic primary. Because there will be so much spin of this result, I thought it might be helpful to put it in some context.
A longtime rule of the Massachusetts Democratic Party is that for a candidate to appear on the ballot in the primary election, that candidate must, in addition to obtaining the required number of certified nomination signatures (in the case of US Senate that’s 10,000), receive the votes of 15% of the delegates at the party nominating convention. The rule has been tweaked occasionally and most candidates make that hurdle – Congressman Mike Capuano was the last one in my memory felled by this rule back in 1992 when he ran for Secretary of State and failed to reach the 15% threshold.
Upon arriving at the convention, delegates were seated by state senate district. We in the First Middlesex District (Lowell, Tyngsborough, Westford, Dunstable, Pepperell, and Groton) had great seats just to the side of the stage. State Senator Eileen Donoghue and State Representative Jim Arciero of Westford sat among the delegates throughout the convention. I believe they were the only elected officials (besides me as Register of Deeds) from the district who were present in Springfield today (with apologies to any town selectmen or school committee members I overlooked – definitely no one from Lowell though).
The first procedural step was the call of the roll. This was ably conducted by Curtis LeMay who served as “teller” for the district. Using a booklet of all district delegates provided by the state party, Curtis marked all who were present and, at the end of the roll call window, physically carried that booklet to a big table in the front of the room. There, party officials tallied the attendance in the First Middlesex and in the other 39 senate districts, concluding finally that there were 3,544 delegates present. It was this number that would be used to calculate the 15% needed for ballot access.
After speeches from Elizabeth Warren and Marisa DeFranco, Curtis procured from the state party table a similar booklet but this one was for tallying the votes for the US Senate endorsement. Here, Curtis stood to the front of our section and boomed out each delegate’s name, one-by-one. As your name was called, you yelled out either “Warren” or “DeFranco” (In the First Middlesex, Warren’s name was shouted 54 times and DeFranco’s none). As the individual delegates cast this voice vote, Curtis would record the vote in his booklet under the watchful eyes of several assistants and monitors from both of the campaigns. Once he had obtained and recorded the votes of everyone present, Curtis then carried the book to the state party table where it was tabulated along with its 39 companions.
When the results were finally announced at about 3 pm, Warren had received 95.77% of the votes and was declared the “endorsed candidate” of the convention. Left unsaid was DeFranco’s failure to reach the 15% threshold which means her spirited candidacy for the US Senate came to an end today in Springfield.
Most everyone was stunned by the scale of Warren’s victory. Everyone seemed to expect DeFranco to eke out at least 15% of the delegates but she didn’t even come close. Before the inevitable conspiracy theories take root, let me just say that everything was done out in the open with zero opportunity for manipulation. As I describe above, the votes were cast by voice in the presence of everyone with nothing but perceived peer pressure influencing any one delegate. In our delegation, there was no arm twisting or lobbying; there didn’t need to be but I don’t think there would have even if there had been DeFranco supporters amongst us. And from what I could learn of vote tallies in districts adjacent on the seating plan in Sringfield or to our district back here at home, the 54-0 vote in the First Middlesex was not unusual. The delegate response to the respective candidate speeches also corroborated the imbalance of support. When Warren spoke, hundreds of her signs were held aloft by delegates throughout the arena and her remarks were met with enthusiastic cheers. When DeFranco spoke, eight supporters held up eleven signs in the middle aisle to the front of the podium; her speech received polite applause.
And Warren in her speech, both in substance and in delivery, rewarded delegates for their commitment to her. If anyone had any doubts about Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy as they entered the Mass Mutual Center this morning, those doubts had been erased by the time they departed late this afternoon.