Massachusetts Bill, More Than Doubling Number of Signatures for Initiatives, Has Hearing March 23

The Massachusetts Joint Election Laws Committee will hear HB 1830 and SB 13 on March 23, Wednesday, at 1:30 p.m. These are identical bills to increase the number of signatures for a statewide initiative from 3% of the last gubernatorial vote, to 7% of the last gubernatorial vote. Currently, the Massachusetts statewide initiative process to change ordinary laws requires fewer signatures (as a percentage of the state’s population) than any other state.

The Massachusetts initiative process was used successfully in 1990 to qualify an initiative that cut the number of signatures for statewide minor party and independent candidates from approximately 50,000 signatures, to 10,000 signatures. Probably that measure could never have qualified for the ballot if Massachusetts had had a 7% requirement for initiatives. Thanks to Carla Howell for this news.


Massachusetts Bill, More Than Doubling Number of Signatures for Initiatives, Has Hearing March 23 — 8 Comments

  1. “Currently, Massachusetts is virtually the only state with a statewide initiative process that is low enough for an all-volunteer, or mostly-volunteer drive, to put an initiative on the ballot.”

    Richard, this is not accurate. While the signature requirement for initiatives is relatively low in comparison to population as compared with most initiative states, the amount of time allowed for petition circulation is short. You are only allowed to gather signatures for about 2 months in the odd year – from September-November. The petition then goes to the legislature and they can either pass it or do nothing. if they do nothing – which is what they usually do – the petition goes back out on the streets for circulation and you are allowed about 1 month – from May-June – to gather more signatures.

    Just about every initiative that has made the ballot in Massachusetts has used paid petition circulators.

    If the legislature does increase the signatures requirement in Massachusetts, they ought to also increase the amount of time allowed for petition signature gathering.

  2. One more example of the robot party hack gerrymander monsters being ANTI-Democracy.

    Voter petitions for candidatea and issues – const amdts, laws, recalls — SELF enforcing — i.e. NO party hack machinations.

  3. “Even though Massachusetts has the nation’s easiest petition requirement for initiatives, Massachusetts ballots do not have many statewide initiatives.”

    Massachusetts is not the easiest. No way.

    In addition to the short circulation period that I mentioned above, every city/town has to be on a seperate page. There are around 359 cities & towns is Massachusetts, and the signatures have to be turned in to each city & town hall for a validation check, and then you’ve got to pick them up from every city & town hall and turn them in to the Secretary of State’s office. This is a MAJOR hassle.

    There is also something known as the “stray mark” ruling in Massachusetts. This comes from a court ruling back in the ’90s where some judge ruled that a petition page could be disqualified if there are any markings on the petition outside of the signature boxes. I think that this “rule” has been over-interpeted to throw signatures out for petty reasons.

    All of this stuff is about statute initiatives. Constitutional amendment initiatives are even more difficult in Massachusetts. These require more signatures than a statute, and they’ve also got to be approved by the majority of the legislature after the sigantures have been collected before they can appear on the ballot. Constitutional amendment initiatives are so difficult in Massachusetts that they pretty much don’t happen. I’m not sure how long it has been since one made the ballot, but it has probably been a long time.

    Overall, Massachusetts is not the worst state for initiatives, but it is not the easiest state either.

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  5. Andy’s comments are all correct. Usually 20-30 initiative laws are submitted for certification in Mass. every election cycle, but only 2-3 of them make the ballot. The rest fail or the proponents don’t even try, realizing they won’t make it.

    There is one other requirement often overlooked that makes Mass petitions difficult: the county distribution requirement. This makes petitioning harder to manage, especially since the collection period is so short – there’s no room for error if you don’t stay on top of it.

    When you combine the difficulty of counting incoming petitions, sorting them by town and counting them all by county, it is a daunting logistical challenge. This difficultly is alleviated if the collection time period is longer.

    If they’re going to make any changes to the Mass. ballot initiative law, what they should do is:
    1. drop the stray mark rule. It is preposterous. Does not pass the laugh test.
    2. drop the 2nd signature drive requirement. It’s a waste of time and money. Everyone knows that if you can get through the first drive, you’ll make it through the second one.
    3. keep the signature level the same and INCREASE the time needed for initiatives. Recommend start as usual in September the year before election and extend to end of June during the election year.
    4. Either a) remove the need to place signatures on separate sheets per town or b) keep this requirement but allow proponents to turn in signatures to one statewide central location (retaining the option for proponents to deliver them directly). Make it the state’s responsibility to distribute petitions to towns thereafter for certification. Charge proponents no more than $5/town for delivery.
    5. End the practice of requiring proponents to pick up certified petitions from towns. Have towns send them directly to the Elections Division instead. Or just keep them on file in towns and report the total to the Elecions Division. There is little need for a recount (they have it already anyway in their central database which the town enter into).
    6. Give towns 2 additional weeks to certify petitions (and mail to completed petitions to the Elections Division, if this requirement remains).
    7. In the event that the towns or Elections Division loses any petitions that were submitted, automatically assume and count 80% of signatures submitted for which a receipt was given to proponents to be certified. If a receipt was given for number of sheets rather than number of signatures, then assume all sheets contained an average of 50% of signature lines filled in (unless proponents have copies to prove otherwise) and 80% of those signaures to be valid.

    As one of the few of citizens in the state who has successfully completed every one of the 11 statewide Mass. signature drive I’ve attempted, them’s my two cents.
    Carla Howell
    Chair, Alliance to Roll Back Taxes
    President, Center for Small Government

  6. So — where is the petition in MA to have REAL Democracy petitions for ballot access, const. amdts, laws and recalls ???

    MA like all other States has its EVIL ANTI-Democracy minority rule gerrymanders for electing the robot party hacks in the MA regime.

    See the many Amdts to the 1780 MA Const regarding gerrymander districts.

  7. Here are some other things that could be done to improve the initiative process in Massachusetts:

    1) Eliminate the requirement that every city & town has to be on a seperate petition sheet and turned in to each city & town hall and then picked up and delivered to the Secretary of State’s office. There is no legitimate reason for having every city & town on seperate pages in this age of computers. The Secretary of State’s office has a list of all of the registered voters in the state. The New England states are the only states that requirement petition signatures to be seperated by city & town and turned in to each city & town hall. There is no reason for this onerous requirement.

    2) Include a seperate box for the printed name of the petition signers. The petitions in Massachusetts just have boxes for signatures and addresses. Most petition circulators will try to get a printed name squeezed in the signature box along with the signature to help improve the signature validation process (as in to make it easier to find people on the voter list). This would be easier if there were a seperate box for a printed name.

    3) There is a lot of wasted space on the front page of the petition sheets in Massachusetts. This space includes the text of what the petition is which is important, but it’s also got a bunch of other stuff on there which is not necessary and just takes up space. The unnecessary stuff should be eliminated and the text of what the petition is could be condensed so it takes up less space. They’ve got signature boxes on the backs of the pages as well, but there’s not text on the back saying what the issue is. There’s no reason that a summary can’t be listed on the back of the page stating what the petition is (and of course the ridiculous “stray mark” ruling should be overturned as stated above).

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