, Salem, MA

October 17, 2012

Our view: Don't ignore Question 1

The Salem News

---- — There are plenty of pithy candidate races and deep-thought ballot questions facing voters in this November’s election. But one item in particular deserves special note for creating more confusion and distractions than any other.

Question 1 on the ballot asks voters to approve the “Right to Repair” initiative, a measure that allows repair garages to have access to computer data that is vital to diagnosing problems with their customers’ cars. Many auto manufacturers had denied repair garages access to this data, which, the garage lobby has correctly argued, puts them at a competitive disadvantage with auto dealers’ service departments.

The repair garages have argued that this costs consumers a tremendous amount of money — up to $500 for certain kids of repairs. They’ve been fighting unsuccessfully for years to pry these computer codes out of the hands of auto dealers.

This battle has been waged in legislatures across the nation, but Massachusetts is the first state to take definitive action. This year, the repair garage lobby successfully managed to get the measure on the ballot, but at the same time, state lawmakers also passed a measure that struck a compromise between the two sides. Lawmakers’ actions came too late to erase the ballot question.

As a result, we have both a law on the books that reflects a compromise, and we have a ballot measure that asks voters to impose a law that more heavily favors the repair garages.

If that isn’t confusing enough, here’s the rest of the story.

The two sides that have been battling for months over the issue — the Right to Repair Coalition and Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers — have launched a new campaign that gives the most bizarre election advice we’ve heard in a long time. Their advice on the ballot question? Just “skip it.”

As we all know, there’s only two real options: Vote yes or vote no. If you “skip it,” you have no say in the matter.

And it looks like not everyone agrees that voters should “skip it.” The AAA of Southern New England announced Monday that it is advising people to vote yes on the measure, arguing the coalition’s compromise bill doesn’t fully protect consumers.

“Your vehicle produces valuable information about its health and condition. AAA thinks you should own this information, all of it, and should be free to share it as you see fit,” said the AAA chapter’s president, Mark Shaw.

For voters, it comes down to two choices: Do you believe that the compromise is sufficient? If so, vote no — that’s the only way to ensure that the compromise law takes precedence. If you agree with the AAA and think the compromise doesn’t go far enough, vote yes.

Whatever you do, you shouldn’t take the coalition’s dunderhead advice to “skip it.” That’s bad advice that accomplishes nothing.