State Ballot Question Petitions

Initiative Petition for a Law

2011-2012 Petition

An initiative petition for a law should be filed if the individual intends to submit a proposed law to the voters for their approval or rejection. An initiative petition for a law may also be used to propose a law seeking to repeal or amend a particular section of an existing law.

How to Originate an Initiative Petition for a Law

To originate an initiative petition for a law, at least ten qualified voters of the Commonwealth may draw up and sign an original petition on which they put forward the full text of the law they wish to have enacted.

Each of the original signers must obtain a certificate of voter registration from the board of registrars or election commission in the city or town in which they are a registered voter. Each certificate of voter registration must be signed by at least three members of the board of registrars or election commission. These voter registration certificates and the original petition then must be submitted to the Office of the Attorney General by the first Wednesday in August.

Some Recommendations

  • Although not required, it is strongly recommended that each of the original signers initial each page of the text of the law before submitting it to the Attorney General. It is also advisable to have more than ten original signers (the ten names to be printed on the petition form can be specified).
  • It is not recommended to file separate signature papers which are attached to the full text of the law. Instead, the final page of the full text should contain the signature of each of the original petitioners. Above the name of each signer you may wish to add a statement similar to the following: “I have personally reviewed the final text of this Initiative Petition, fully subscribe to its contents, and agree to be one of the original signers of the petition.”
  • The voter registration certificate of each signer may be attached separately to the petition.

Excluded Subjects and Summary

The Constitution excludes from the Initiative subjects that relate to religion, judges, the courts, particular localities of the Commonwealth, specific appropriations, and certain provisions of the state constitution's Declaration of Rights. Additionally, substantially the same petition cannot have appeared on the ballot at either of the two immediately preceding biennial state elections.

The Attorney General bears the responsibility of determining whether the petition is an acceptable subject of the Initiative, and if so, he or she prepares a fair and concise summary and returns this summary and the proposed law to the petitioners. If the Attorney General determines the petition relates to an excluded matter, the petition is disallowed.

Printing of Petitions

After the petition is returned from the Attorney General with the summary, the petitioners file both the summary and the proposed law with the Secretary of the Commonwealth. The Secretary prepares initiative petition form blanks with the summary printed thereon for gathering signatures of registered voters.

Pursuant to 950 C.M.R. ß 48.04(6), the petitioners may request in writing that certain information be printed on the petition forms. Specifically, upon request of the petition sponsors, this office will print the petition sponsor's address and telephone number on the petition form and/or a box at the bottom right on the petition sheet specifically for circulators to number petitions.

The petition forms are available within fourteen days after the petitioners file the papers with the Secretary of the Commonwealth. In order to receive the printed blanks as soon as possible, the petitioners may pick up the petitions at the printing plant if they so desire. Before picking up the blank petition forms, the petitioners must get an authorization slip from the Secretary of the Commonwealth. The Secretary provides enough blank petition forms to gather more than the required number of signatures. However, the petitioners may make exact copies of the blank forms for gathering additional signatures.

How Many Signatures Are Required

In order to be placed before the General Court, the petition must contain certified signatures at least equal to 3% of the total vote cast for all candidates for Governor (excluding blanks) at the last state election. This means that until the results of the 2014 state election are certified by the Governor's Council, the initiative petition must be signed by a minimum of 68,911 certified voters. No more than one-quarter of the certified signatures may come from any one county (until the results of the 2014 state election are certified by the Governor's Council, this figure is 17,228).

The Petition is Laid Before The Legislature

After the necessary number of signatures have been certified and subsequently filed with the Secretary of the Commonwealth, the Secretary transmits the initiative petition to the House Clerk for legislative action on the first legislative day of the year.

The initiative petition must be heard by the committee to which it is referred and a report issued. Any legislative action on the petition must be taken by each branch of the General Court before the first Wednesday in May. The initiative petition may not be amended by the General Court. If the General Court approves the initiative and the Governor signs it or it passes over his veto by a two-thirds vote of both houses, it becomes a law. In a rarely used procedure, after rejecting the proposed initiative, the General Court may formulate a legislative proposal of its own, to be grouped on the ballot with the initiative measure as an alternate choice.

How to Get the Petition on the Ballot

If the petition is rejected by the General Court or if the General Court fails to act by the first Wednesday in May, the proposed ballot measure, in an infrequently used process, may be amended by a majority of the ten original signers. Any amendment proposed pursuant to this infrequently used process must be approved by the Attorney General as perfecting in nature; that is, the amendment does not materially change the substance of the measure.

The petitioners may force the original or amended petition on the ballot at the next regular state election by submitting a written request to the Secretary by the appropriate deadline for additional petition forms and then collecting the required number of additional certified signatures on these forms. This request should indicate that a majority of the first ten signers wish to obtain additional petition forms. The request need not contain the signatures of all ten signers, and an agent may sign on behalf of a majority of the first ten signers.

Additional Signatures

The signatures of an additional 1/2 of 1% of the vote cast for Governor (excluding blanks) at the last state election must be filed with the Secretary of the Commonwealth. This means that, until the results of the 2014 state election are certified by the Governor's Council, the additional signature requirement is 11,485 certified signatures. The same provision applies that no more than 1/4 of these signatures may come from one county (until the results of the 2014 state election are certified by the Governor’s Council, this is 2,871).

How Passes

For an initiative petition for a law to be passed by the electorate, the Constitution requires that at least 30% of the voters who cast ballots in the election must vote in the affirmative on the question, and a majority of the ballots cast on that question must also be affirmative.

When Effective

The Constitution states that a law proposed by an initiative petition takes effect thirty days after the state election, or at such time after the election as may be provided in such law. The courts have not definitively decided whether this means thirty days after the election, or thirty days after the certification of the election results by the Governor’s Council, which usually occurs in late November or early December.

If the petitioners want to ensure that the initiative measure takes effect at the earliest possible date, it is suggested that the petitioners state in the measure itself that it is to become effective immediately upon becoming law. That will mean it becomes effective immediately upon certification of the election results.

Legal References:

  • Articles XLVIII, LXXIV, and LXXXI of the Amendments of the Massachusetts Constitution.
  • Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 53, section 22A (2008 ed.).
  • 950 C.M.R. ß 48.00.
  • Capezzuto v. State Ballot Law Commission, 407 Mass. 949, 556 N.E.2d 366 (1990).
  • Hurst v. State Ballot Law Commission, 427 Mass. 825 (1998).

Calendar for an Iinitiative Petition for a Law

Calendar of Events

Legal Deadlines

Dates

Submission of petition to Attorney General by 10 original signers

By the 1st Wednesday of August

August 3, 2011

Filing of petition with Secretary of the Commonwealth by original Petitioners

Not before the 1st Wednesday of September

September 7, 2011

Secretary has petition forms prepared for collection of required number of signatures

No later than 14 days after filing with the Secretary

September 21, 2011

Filing of petitions with local registrars for certification

By 14 days before the 1st Wednesday of December

November 23, 2011

Filing certified petitions with the Secretary

By the 1st Wednesday of December

December 7, 2011

Transmittal of petitions to House Clerk by the Secretary

First legislative day of the year

January 4, 2012

Legislative action

Before the 1st Wednesday of May

May 1, 2012

Filing with Secretary of request for additional petition forms

Not before the 1st Wednesday of May

May 2, 2012

Filing with Secretary of amended petition, with certificate from the Attorney General that the amendment does not materially change the substance of the measure

Before the 1st Wednesday of June

June 5, 2012

Collection and filing of additional signatures with local registrars for certification

After the 1st Wednesday of May and by 14 days before the 1st Wednesday of July

June 19, 2012

Filing with Secretary of additional signatures to put petition on ballot if General Court fails to enact Measure

Not before the 1st Wednesday of June and by the 1st Wednesday of July

June 6, 2012
July 3, 2012

STATE ELECTION DAY

1st Tuesday after the 1st Monday in November

November 6, 2012

Law takes effect

Thirty days after election or upon such time as may be provided in such law

December 2012