Laws governing the initiative process in Massachusetts (archive)

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Citizens of Massachusetts can initiate both constitutional amendments and laws. However, in both cases, voters may only do so through the indirect initiative process. Massachusetts is one of only two states--the other being Mississippi--where the process of constitutional amendment is indirect. It is one of seven states--the others being Alaska, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio and Wyoming--where the process of initiating new state laws is exclusively indirect.

The basics

Ten qualified voters draw up and sign the original petition putting forward the full text of the law they want enacted. Each of the ten original signers must then obtain certificates of voter registration from the board of registrars or election commission in the city or town where they are registered voters. The certificate of voter registration must be signed by at least three registrars.These certificates and the original petition must then be submitted to the Massachusetts Attorney General. The deadline is the first Wednesday of the September previous to the year of the next Gubernatorial election.

The Attorney General certifies that the measure and the title of the petition are in proper form for submission to the people; that the measure is not, either affirmatively or negatively, substantially the same as any other measure which has been qualified for submission or submitted to the people at either of the two preceding biennial state elections. Also, it must contain only subjects not excluded from the popular initiative. The Constitution excludes subjects that relate to religion, judges, the courts, particular localities, specific appropriations, and certain provisions of the state constitution’s Declaration of Rights from the initiative.

Once the petition is found acceptable, the Attorney general will prepare a summary and return it and the petition to the petitioners, who must file the petition and summary with the Massachusetts Secretary of State. The initiative can be filed with the Secretary of State sometime after the first Wednesday in September of the year previous to the next Gubernatorial election. The Attorney General almost always reviews the measure and writes the summary by the first Wednesday of September, but is not required by statute to do so. After the proponents submit the final language to the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State will prepare the initiative petition forms with the summary thereon printed for voters to sign within fourteen days after receiving the papers from the original petitioners.


Signature requirements

Since Massachusetts employs an indirect initiative process, the General Court has an opportunity to adopt proposed laws and amendments before they move to a popular vote. However, unlike other states, Massachusetts requires additional signatures following legislative inaction.

For an amendment or statute, signatures must equal 3 percent of votes cast for governor in the most recent election (excluding blanks). If the legislature declines to act on a proposed statute, supporters are required to collect a second round of signatures totaling 0.5 percent of the votes cast for governor in the most recent election (excluding blanks). For proposed amendments, one-quarter of the legislature must approve the petition in a joint session -- a second round of signatures is not required.

For a veto referendum, signatures must equal 1.5 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the most recent election. No more than one-fourth of these certified signatures may come from any one county. If the petitioners request suspension of the law in writing, signatures are required totaling 2 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the last election.

Year Amendment or Statute Statute add-on Veto referendum Veto referendum (suspension of law)
2016 64,750 10,792 32,375 43,167
2014 68,911 11,485 34,456 45,941
2012 68,911 11,485 34,456 45,941
2010 66,593 11,099 33,297 44,396
2008 66,593 11,099 33,297 44,396

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Massachusetts Constitution, Article XLVIII, Parts IV-V & Article LXXXI, Section 2


Initiative language can be submitted at any time, and the circulation time is unlimited.

Distribution requirement

Massachusetts has a distribution requirement, which mandates that no more than one-quarter of the certified signatures may come from any one county.

Residency of circulators

Massachusetts does not have a residency requirement. However, it does require that circulators be at least 18 years old.

Signature submission

Signed petitions must be submitted to the Local Registrars of Voters at least 14 days before the first Wednesday in December for verification, with the exception of Boston, where the deadline is 10 days earlier. All signatures must be certified by a majority (at least three) of the local registrars or election commissioners in the city or town in which the signatures are collected.


Massachusetts does not have a single-subject rule.

Legislative tampering

Main article: Legislative tampering

The Massachusetts State Legislature can both repeal and amend initiatives, according to Massachusetts Constitution Article 48, Gen. Prov. Pt. 6.

Proposed changes


Changes in 2011 to laws governing ballot measures

Bills that have or might be introduced in the 2011 session of the Massachusetts General Court include:


Changes in 2010 to laws governing ballot measures

The following proposals were made during the 2009-2010 session of the Massachusetts General Court:

Campaign finance

Main article: Campaign finance requirements for Massachusetts ballot measures

Some of the main features of Massachusetts campaign finance law include:

  • Massachusetts treats groups in support or opposition of a referendum differently from other political committees.
  • Massachusetts requires a group in support or opposition of a referendum to file a statement of organization before accepting any contributions.
  • Corporations and labor unions are allowed to donate to campaigns in support or opposition of a referendum.
  • All contributions received must be earmarked within 7 days of receipt of the contribution.
  • All ballot question committees must file their reports electronically.
  • No employee of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts can be forced to donate to a campaign in support or opposition of a referendum.

External links