Final Massachusetts initiative filing deadline arrives

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July 7, 2010

By Al Ortiz

BOSTON, Massachusetts: With plenty of time on the clock, sponsors of all four circulating initiatives delivered petition signatures to the Secretary of the Commonwealth Elections Division. The state petition drive deadline arrived on Wednesday, as initiative sponsors needed to turn in at least 11,099 additional signatures that were validated by city and town clerks in the state.

This is the last in what has been many hurdles for initiative organizers. Signatures needed to be submitted to the Elections Division's office by 5 p.m. EST. Sponsors had been filing into the office to submit signatures in the days leading up to the deadline, according to the division.

Massachusetts has a complex procedure regarding its initiative laws, as many deadlines had to be met during the course of the past 8 months.

Supporters were required to collect a minimum of 66,593 valid signatures from registered voters by December 2, 2009. Those measures were then reviewed by the Massachusetts Legislature, where they had the option of enacting it into a law or rejecting it.

If the Legislature did not approve of an initiative by the May 4, 2010 deadline, petition organizers had to obtain signatures from about 1/2 of 1% of voters who voted in the last governor election and submit them to local clerks by June 23, 2010. This figure turned out to be the previously mentioned 11,099.

City and town clerks had to verify signatures by July 2, 2010. When Ballotpedia contacted the City of Cambridge elections division, the office stated that they verify signatures by typing in the address of those signatures into their system to see if the signer is a registered voter. Signatures must also be legible, according to the office.

Sponsors then had to collect the validated signatures and turn them in to the Massachusetts Secretary of State's Elections Division in Boston by Wednesday.

Carla Howell turning in signatures at the Massachusetts Secretary of State's Elections Divison. Photo Credit: Geoff Pallay

According to the Massachusetts's Elections Division's website, four initiatives had been approved for circulation out of the 30 total proposals that had been submitted by hopeful sponsors. The four that were in circulation included proposals to: eliminate tax on alcohol sales in the state, reduce the sales tax rate in state from 6.25 to 3 percent, require waste-to-energy sources that rely on heat for decomposition to emit at most 250 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour in order to be categorized as "alternative energy developments," and another measure to repeal Chapter 40B, a housing law in the state.

The Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office saw plenty of action on Wednesday, as groups filed their remaining signatures in order to make the ballot.

Carla Howell and her group, which proposed the sales tax rollback measure, filed their remaining signatures around 1:30 p.m. EST, claiming “Tax cuts, here we come!” as she turned in the last of the petitions. According to Howell, the group had collected a comfortable amount of signatures, giving the effort some “cushion”. Howell stated that the group had collected 14,000 signatures and will end up with 13,900 verified signatures after the Elections Division reviews them.

Craig Chemaly and John Belskis turning in signatures at the Massachusetts Secretary of State's Elections Division. Photo Credit: Geoff Pallay

Howell said, “We started the first petition drive last September, and that went September through December, then the second signature drive went from May until today…today is the end of our effort in terms of getting the signatures and jumping through all the many hoops that are required in Massachusetts to get a measure on the ballot.”

Howell also chimed in on why her group wants the sales tax cut down, stating that New Hampshire has a smaller rate of unemployment because there is no sales tax. Howell said that her group is ready for the backlash anticipated from opponents of the measure, stating, “I expect they will spend a lot of money. They’ve indicated that they will, but a few things are different this year, most notably we are ahead in the polls for the first time.”

Around 2:00 p.m. EST, sponsors for the measure that would repeal the Chapter 40B housing law announced that they had turned in about 11,700 signatures, claiming that those signatures would hold up and their measure would be on the ballot in the fall. Craig Chemaly, director of Slow Growth Initiative, the group sponsoring the measure, said that the group had both volunteers and paid signature gatherers working on the initiative.

According to Chemaly, “We had a lot of volunteers helping out. We wouldn’t have been able to do this without the volunteers.”

Chemaly, who showed up to the office with John Belskis, chairman of the Coalition to Repeal 40B, wants the housing law to be repealed because, “It doesn’t create enough affordable housing, it has directly contributed to making our state the third most expensive state in the country in terms of housing, and then on top of that, it’s a main driver of local taxes going up, local overrides being necessary, and it really increases the price of land.”

The Elections Division will now check the petitions by looking for particular stray marks on the pages and checking the official count on the back of each page as written by a city or town clerk's office. Approved measures are then finally sent to the ballot for voters to decide on in November.

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