Laws governing the initiative process in Massachusetts
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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.
Initiative language can be submitted at any time, and the circulation time is unlimited.
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.
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.
- Main article: Legislative tampering
The Massachusetts State Legislature can both repeal and amend initiatives, according to Massachusetts Constitution Article 48, Gen. Prov. Pt. 6.
The following proposals were made during the 2009-2010 session of the Massachusetts General Court. The General Court adjourned its session for 2010.
HB 559: HB 559, carried over from 2009, would:
- Require that petition circulators register with the government. Registration with the government would be required both by "all business operating in the commonwealth engaged in the activity of collecting signatures for initiative or referendum petitions and that are using paid signature gatherers" and "all paid signature gatherers." Circulators would have to register separately for every petition they circulate.
- Forbid paying circulators on a pay-per-signature basis.
- Forbid circulators from simultaneously circulating more than one initiative petition.
The bill died in committee without seeing a full vote in the General Court.
- Require any person who collects, or attempts to collect, signatures for an initiative or referendum petition to, at all times he is actively engaged in such activity wear a sticker, button, or other similar such marking on a conspicuous place on the outer layer of his clothing readily visible to persons being solicited.
- All words on the sticker would have to be in "at least" 14-point type size.
- The identifying buttons/stickers would have to include this information:
- The first and last names of the person soliciting signatures
- The full name of the person, corporation, organization, committee, or other entity on behalf of whom the person is soliciting signatures.
- The full names of all "persons, corporations, organizations, committees, or other entities" hired or retained by the entity who hired the circulator for the purpose of obtaining signatures.
- A statement disclosing how much compensation the person is receiving for soliciting signatures.
- If the person is being paid on a pay-per-signature basis, the statement must say, "I am being paid $ (insert amount) for each signature I collect"
- If the person is paid on an hourly basis, that statement must say, "I am being paid $(insert amount) per hour to collect these signatures." * HB 571 imposes a fine of $500 on anyone who fails to comply with its provisions.
- HB 571 imposes a fine of $5,000 on "the person, corporation, organization, committee, or other entity" on behalf of whom a circulator found to be in violation is working.
The bill died in committee without seeing a full vote in the General Court.
HB 572: HB 572, carried over from 2009, would prohibit anyone from "engag[ing] in the collection of signatures for a initiative or referendum petition for money or any other thing of value." . The bill died in committee without seeing a full vote in the General Court.
HB 573: HB 573 would increase the increase the number of signatures required in order to qualify an initiative for the ballot from 3% of the vote cast for governor in the most recent gubernatorial election to 3% of the number of registered voters in the state at the time of the state's most recent presidential election.. The bill was killed in both House and Senate committees.
HB 679: HB 679, which was carried over from 2009, says that any corporation doing business in Massachusetts that is related to health care services or insurance, and that makes a contribution to a ballot question committee (reportable under Chapter 55, Section 22) must return a credit to any members that is a pro-rated cost of those ballot question expenditures, if any member of the corporation so requests by objecting in writing to the expenditure. The bill died in committee without seeing a full vote in the General Court.
SB 23: SB 23 would insert the words "The rights to freedom, equality, and civil liberties; the right of each individual to be protected by society in the enjoyment of life, Liberty and property, according to standing laws” into Section 2 of Part II, labeled "Initiative Petitions" in Article XLVIII, Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution. The bill died in committee without seeing a full vote in the General Court.
- Section 9B. There shall be in the department of the state secretary, but not under his supervision or control, a Ballot Question Title And Summary Statement Commission consisting of the state secretary or his or her designee, who shall serve as it’s chairperson, the attorney general or his or her designee, three persons designated by the governor. Persons designated by the governor will serve a term coterminous with the Governor’s and be expected to have received training and have experience in developing survey questions of a fair and unbiased nature, or be retired justices from the state court system, and in either instance not currently employees of the Commonwealth. Said Commission will receive draft titles and summaries from the attorney general for use on the state ballot and petition forms and prepare final titles and summaries for use by the state secretary. Upon receipt of said drafts from the attorney general, the Commission will circulate said drafts by electronic and other means within one business day and begin a ten day public comment period in order to solicit public and expert testimony on the merits of the draft and in order to solicit proposals for its possible improvement. Ten days following the close of the public comment period, the Commission will make available to the state secretary the completed title and summary language for printing on blank petitions by the state secretary to allow filing within the Constitutionally prescribed period. The Ballot Question Title And Summary Statement Commission shall also be responsible for drafting a 500 word explanatory statement describing the consequence of an affirmative and negative decision on the question described and submitting said statement to the state secretary for use in providing information to voters in preparation for the state election in which the question shall appear. As part of the drafting process, the Commission shall hold public hearings and receive public comment on the drafts submitted to the public for their consideration.
- SECTION 2. Chapter 9 is further amended by inserting after Section 9B the following section:-
- Section 9C. There shall be in the department of the state secretary, but not under his supervision or control, a Ballot Question Fiscal Impact Statement Commission consisting of the state secretary or his or her designee, who shall serve as it’s chairperson, the chairpersons and ranking minority members of the House and Senate Committees on Ways and Means or their designees, the state treasurer or his or her designee, the secretary of administration and finance or his or her designee, and a person designated by the Massachusetts Municipal Association. The Ballot Question Fiscal Impact Statement Commission shall be responsible for drafting a 100 word explanatory statement describing the fiscal consequence for state and local government finances of an affirmative decision on the question described and submitting said statement to the state secretary for use in providing information to voters in preparation for the state election in which the question shall appear. As part of the drafting process, the Commission shall hold public hearings and receive public comment on the drafts submitted to the public for their consideration. If at least five Commission members can not agree on a final fiscal impact statement the following statement will be delivered for use by the state secretary: “The fiscal impact of this measure, if any, can not be reasonably determined at this time”
- SECTION 3. Chapter 9 is further amended by inserting after Section 9C the following section:-
- Section 9D. For the administration and support of activities authorized under Sections 9B and 9C of this Chapter, the state secretary may employ and assign such assistants and other employees as are required.
- SECTION 4. Chapter 53 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting at the end of Section 7, the following:-
- Subsection I: The state secretary shall further promulgate regulations governing the conduct of paid signature gatherers for ballot questions, designed to achieve and maintain security from forgery and fraud in the collection of such signatures on petitions for ballot questions and names thereon. Such regulations shall:
- (a) prohibit companies paid to collect signatures for ballot petitions from contracting to do so for more than one ballot question in any two year election cycle;
- (b) prohibit individual signature gatherers paid for such services from collecting signatures for more than one ballot question during the same twenty-four hour period;
- (c) require individual signature gatherers paid for such services to display identification indicating the company or organization that is paying for the service, a phone number for that organization, and the individual collector’s state of residence;
- (d) require that individual signature gatherers paid for such services sign a sworn oath upon submitting such signatures to the local registrar declaring that the signatures submitted were signed in their presence, and, to the best of their knowledge, the signatures submitted are names of qualified voters.
- SECTION 5. Chapter 54 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after Section 53 the following section:-
- Section 53A. The secretary of the Commonwealth shall publish the following on its website and in the information for voters material:
- (a) the most recent list of the top 10 contributors to committees organized for the purpose of supporting and committees organized for the purpose of defeating a ballot question and all contributors to each committee organized for said purposes contributing above $5,000 in any one election cycle;
- (b) the most recent contribution amount for each listed contributor;
- (c) the address, employer, and occupation of each listed contributor;
- (d) the most recent total of expenditures for each committee organized for the purpose of supporting or defeating a ballot question;
- (e) a graph or chart depicting the percentage of all contributions made to all committees organized for the purpose of supporting and all committees organized for the purpose of defeating a ballot question. Such graph or chart should depict contributions in amounts under $50, between $50 and $199, between $200 and $999, between $1,000 and $9,999, and those above $10,000;
- (f) the physical address and phone number of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance ("OCPF")
- (g) OCPF's website address;
- (h) a statement informing voters that they can access more information regarding the financial information of ballot question committees at OCPF's physical location or website.
- SECTION 6. Chapter 55 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after Section 5B, subsection (a) ii, the following:-
- (iii) whether the committee has been organized in support or in opposition to a specific ballot question
- SECTION 7. Chapter 55 is further amended by inserting after Section 18 subsection (h) the following:-
- (i) Notwithstanding the provisions of other clauses of this section, all contributions or aggregate contributions made to a ballot question committee in excess of $2,500 within 45 days of the election on which the ballot question appears, shall be reported to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance within 24 hours of receipt by the ballot question committee.
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.
- Massachusetts statewide ballot measures: an overview
- How to place a question on the state election ballot Official Massachusetts guidelines
- Massachusetts Constitution and Statutory Provisions provided by the Initiative & Referendum Institute
- Legislative research in Massachusetts. See section 1.2.6 on Voter-Mandated Legislation
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