Laws governing local ballot measures in Massachusetts
This article sets out the laws governing local ballot measures in Massachusetts. It explains:
- Which local units of government make the initiative process available to residents.
- How and whether local units of government, including school districts, can refer local ballot measures (such as school bond propositions) to the ballot.
- An overview of laws governing local recall elections.
Note that Massachusetts is one of twenty-four states that allow the initiative process at the statewide level.
Types of local government
Local government in Massachusetts consists of:
- 53 city governments.
- 298 town governments.
- 6 county governments. Massachusetts had 14 counties but abolished 8 leaving 5 counties with county-level local government (Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Norfolk, Plymouth) and one, Nantucket County, with a combined county/city government.
- In addition, there are 412 special districts and 84 independent school districts.
Further classification of cities and towns:
Cities and towns in Massachusetts may be:
- Home rule charter, of which there are 90, as of 2008
- Special act charter, of which there are approximately 60
- General law, of which there are approximately 201.
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Local recall rules
The right of citizens to recall elected officials is believed to have been mentioned first in the Massachusetts Charter of 1691.
- For additional detail, see: Laws governing recall in Massachusetts
|A guide to local ballot initiatives|
Initiative process availability
The local units of government in Massachusetts that make the initiative process available are:
- General law cities operating under government types A,B,C,D,E, and F as specified in Chapter 43 of Mass. General Laws have a state specified initiative and referendum process for ordinances. There are 25 such cities.
- Home rule charter cities and towns have a state mandated initiative process for charter amendments. There are 90 such municipalities.
- Charter counties have a state mandated initiative and referendum process. However, no county has yet become a charter county under the statutes mandating initiative and referendum. One county, Barnstable, has a charter that was a special act of the legislature and is not subject to the amendment process provided in state statutes. However, its charter provides a process for initiative and referendum for charter amendment.
| Ballot Law Portal|
|Laws Governing Ballot Measures|
|Part the First|
|Part the Second:|
|Articles of Amendment|
Massachusetts Constitution Article LXXXIX provides for home rule charter adoption for cities and towns. A petition process is provided for charter adoption and revisions. A successful petition campaign leads to the creation of a charter commission and a subsequent vote on the proposed or revised charter.
|“||Section 3. Procedure for Adoption or Revision of a Charter by a City or Town. - Every city and town shall have the power to adopt or revise a charter in the following manner: A petition for the adoption or revision of a charter shall be signed by at least fifteen per cent of the number of legal voters residing in such city or town at the preceding state election.||”|
Chapter 43 B, Section 3 of the Massachusetts General Laws also governs the petition process for home rule charter adoptions and revisions.
|“||Section 3. The adoption of a charter for any city or town under sections two and three of Article LXXXIX of the Amendments to the Constitution and the revision of any charter so adopted shall be initiated by filing with the board of registrars of voters of the city or town a petition signed by at least fifteen per cent of the number of registered voters residing in said city or town at the preceding state election.||”|
Chapter 43 B, Section 10 of the Massachusetts General Laws provides an initiative process for charter amendments. Unlike some other states, a successful petition campaign does not force a vote at the ballot. However, a public hearing must be held and the proposed amendment must be considered and voted upon by the city council or town meeting of the municipality.
Chapter 43, Sections 37 and 42 of the Massachusetts General Laws gives authority to general law cities with government types A, B, C, D, E, and F for the powers of initiative and referendum.
|“||Section 37. A petition conforming to the requirements hereinafter provided and requesting the city council to pass a measure, except an order granted under section seventy or seventy-one of chapter one hundred and sixty-four or chapter one hundred and sixty-six, or requesting the school committee to pass a measure, therein set forth or designated, shall be termed an initiative petition, and shall be acted upon as hereinafter provided. In this and the eight following sections, “measure” shall mean an ordinance, resolution, order or vote passed by a city council, or a resolution, order or vote passed by a school committee, as the case may be.||”|
|“||Section 42. If, within twenty days after the final passage of any measure, except a revenue loan order, by the city council or by the school committee, a petition signed by registered voters of the city, equal in number to at least twelve percent of the total number of registered voters, and addressed to the city council or to the school committee, as the case may be, protesting against such measure or any part thereof taking effect, is filed with the city clerk, the same shall thereupon and thereby be suspended from taking effect.||”|
Initiative process features
The charter amendment process for Home rule charters is detailed in Chapter 43B of the Massachusetts General Laws.
The initiative and referendum process is available to all cities that have instituted government types A,B,C,D,E, or F. The process features are detailed in the Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 43, Section 37-44.
|Local I&R Laws in the 50 States|
|Source:Local Ballot Initiatives: How citizens change laws with |
clipboards, conversations, and campaigns
Initiative process in the top 10 most populated cities
|List of Most Populated Cities in Massachusetts|
|City||Population||City Type||Form of government||Next election|
|Boston||625,087||Special Act Charter||mayor-council||No I&R|
|Worcester||181,631||Home Rule Charter||council-manager||11/5/2013|
|Springfield||153,155||General law||Plan A: mayor-council||11/5/2013|
|Lowell||107,584||General law||Plan E: council-manager||11/5/2013|
|Cambridge||106,038||General law||Plan E: council-manager||11/5/2013|
|New Bedford||95,183||General law||Plan B: mayor-council||11/5/2013|
|Brockton||94,316||General law||Plan B: mayor-council||11/5/2013|
|Quincy||92,909||General law||Plan A: mayor-council||11/5/2013|
|Lynn||91,040||Home Rule Charter||mayor-council||11/5/2013|
|Fall River||88,962||General law||Plan A: mayor-council||11/5/2013|
- ↑ The U.S. Census Bureau's 2012 study of local governments
- ↑ Massachusetts Municipal Association, Forms of Municipal Government/Charters
- ↑ Ballotpedia: Types and #'s of local government by state
- ↑ Cite error: Invalid
<ref>tag; no text was provided for refs named
- ↑ Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 43B
- ↑ Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 43
- ↑ US Census Bureau "City and Town Totals: Vintage 2011 (Population figures as of 2011 Census estimates)
- ↑ Worcester Elections
- ↑ Springfield Elections
- ↑ Lowell Elections
- ↑ Cambridge Elections
- ↑ New Bedford Elections
- ↑ Brockton Elections
- ↑ Quincy Elections
- ↑ Lynn Elections
- ↑ Fall River Elections
- ↑ 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 17.5 17.6 17.7 17.8 17.9 US Census "March 2011 Estimate of Massachusetts cities"
- ↑ Worcester city code
- ↑ Quincy city code
- ↑ Lynn city code