Looking down the ballot: Races that impact equity in our communities

Jordan Ziese, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator
October blogs (1)

There are approximately 500,000 elected offices in the United States, from President to State Representatives to Sheriffs. The races that often have the largest impact on our local communities receive the least amount of attention, especially in Presidential election years. Writer Nylah Burton reminds us that many “other people in our country besides those in Washington have the power to make our world kinder or crueler, to continue to let people die or give them the resources to thrive. Because of this, local elections are beyond important.” 

In addition, in Massachusetts, a large number of our public servants serve in appointed positions. It is important to thoughtfully elect the people making these appointments, which is crucial to the Parity on Board coalition’s work to diversify public boards and commissions in Massachusetts. Turning out to vote in local elections is a large part of making sure that those who govern Massachusetts reflect Massachusetts.  

If you are a registered Massachusetts voter, take the time to review your full ballot on Ballotpedia. There may be races you’ve never heard of, or at least races where you haven’t researched who is running. Make your voting experience smoother by researching sooner rather than later. 

Learn more about a few of the less widely covered races in the Boston-area this election cycle which will have a major impact on systemic equity: 
  • Suffolk County Register of Probate 
    The job description for Registers of Probates in Massachusetts stipulates that this elected official is responsible for the facilitation of family and probate court, serving for 6 year terms in a position that nearly every citizen can count on interacting with at one point or another. Currently running for the position are former Boston City Councilors Felix Arroyo (Democrat, Incumbent) and Althea Garrison (Independent), in addition to entrepreneur Melissa Tyler (Independent). The last time this position was open in 2014, GBH asked former Boston City Councilor Richard Ianella why a position that voters know so little about isn’t appointed instead of elected, “Pardon the expression, but I think people are dead wrong when they say it shouldn’t be an elected position. You know what? This is a job that is the public eyes and ears and the public has to hold the register accountable.”  
  • Norfolk County Commissioner 
    This year Joseph Shea (Incumbent Democrat), Richard Staiti (Democrat), and Heather Hamilton (Independent) are running for two openings on the Norfolk County Commission. The Commission functions as the elected executive board  responsible for making budget and policy decisions for the governance of the county. On October 14, 2020 the three candidates had a debate moderated by the League of Women Voters discussing the issues facing Norfolk county and the past performance of the Commission.  
  • Norfolk County Sheriff 
    Sheriffs serve as a county’s chief law enforcement officer, overseeing the administration of the county’s jails, police department, and law enforcement programs and are elected every 4 years in Norfolk County. This year incumbent Jerry McDermott (Republican) is running against Patrick McDermott (Democrat, no relation). On October 19, 2020 the two candidates had a debate hosted by WATD 95.9 FM discussing their plans for reducing recidivism rates in the county, managing the Coronavirus pandemic in the county’s jails, police reform efforts in the Massachusetts legislature, and increasing the diversity of those employed by the sheriff’s office.  

As Nyla Burton states, “While no system in the U.S. is close to perfect or just, voting in local elections gets us closer to the world where decisions are made fairly and for the population at large.”

These are only some of the down ballot races across Massachusetts this year. To learn more about who is on your ballot this year, whether you will be voting early in person, by mail, or on election day, visit Ballotpedia and check out our blog post to find information about making a voting plan and helping others in your community do the same. 

Are you interested in getting involved in Massachusetts government to make change in your community? Visit Parity on Board’s guide to joining one of 700+ Public Boards or Commissions in Massachusetts or apply to become a member of the YW Boston Advocacy Committee, which works to achieve YW’s mission of eliminating racism and empowering women through public policy. There are races big and small that are important in Massachusetts and the nation, but after election day we also need folks working in our communities to ensure that the government of Massachusetts works for all our residents.  


About YW Boston

As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Through our DE&I services—InclusionBoston and LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and F.Y.R.E. Initiative, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed.

As part of that work, we are helping organizations prioritize Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and become socially connected while staying physically distant. During this time, YW Boston is providing organizations with digital workshops and resources to help them better understand the challenges faced by their employees. For more information, please contact Sheera Bornstein at sheera@ywboston.org.