State Ballot Question Petitions

Initiative Petition for a Constitutional Amendment

2011-2012 Petition

An initiative petition for a constitutional amendment should be filed if an individual intends to submit a proposed constitutional amendment to the voters for approval or rejection.

How to Originate a Constitutional Amendment Petition

To originate an initiative petition for a constitutional amendment, 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 constitutional amendment they wish to have enacted.

Each of the ten 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 amendment 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 pages which are attached to the full text of the amendment.  Instead, the final page of the full text should contain the signature of each signer.  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 Constitutional Amendment, fully subscribe to its contents, and agree to be one of its original signers."
  • 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 an initiative, and if so, prepares a fair and concise summary and returns this summary and the proposed amendment to the petitioners.  If the Attorney General determines that 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 amendment with the Secretary of the Commonwealth.  The Secretary prepares initiative petition form blanks with the summary printed thereon for gathering signatures of registered voters.  These petition forms are available within fourteen days after the petitioners file the papers with the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

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 sponsors 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. 

In order to receive the printed blanks as soon as possible, the petitioners may pick up the petitions at the printing plant.  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 if they wish for gathering additional signatures.

How Many Sigantures 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 amendment petitions 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 signatures have been certified and petitions filed, the Secretary transmits the amendment petition to the House Clerk for legislative action on the first legislative day of the year.

Initiative amendments are acted upon by joint sessions of the House and Senate sitting together.  The amendment must be laid before the joint session by the second Wednesday of May. The petition may be amended by a three-fourths affirmative majority vote by the House and Senate. By a majority vote, the Legislature may formulate a proposal of it own, to be grouped on the ballot with the initiative amendment as an alternative choice.

How to Get the Petition on the Ballot

The initiative amendment must be placed on the ballot if, in joint sessions held by two successively elected Legislatures, the petition wins the support of at least 25% (50) of the 200 legislators (40 senators and 160 representatives).  An initiative amendment to the constitution will not appear on the ballot if, when it comes to a vote in either joint session, less than 25% of the legislators vote in favor of it or no vote is taken before the legislative term ends.

How Passes

For an initiative petition for a constitutional amendment to be passed by the electorate, 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 constitutional amendment proposed by initiative petition takes effect upon certification of the election results by the Governorës Council, which usually occurs in late November or early December, or date provided, if later. 

Legal References:

  • Articles XLVIII, LXXIV, and LXXXI of the Amendments to 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).
  • Limits v. President of the Senate, 414 Mass. 31 (1992).

Calendar for an Initiative Petition for a Constitutional Amendment

Calendar of Events

Legal Deadlines


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

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

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 - Joint Session

Must be “laid before” joint session before the 2nd Wednesday in May. If approved by at least 25% (50 votes of legislature, it is held for the next elected legislature. If not, it is dead.

May 9, 2012

Legislative action - next elected Legislature in joint session

2013 or 2014


(if amendment passes 2 sessions)

1st Tuesday after the 1st Monday in November

November 4, 2014

Amendment takes effect

Date of certification of election results or upon date provided if later.

November or December 2014