State Ballot Question Petitions

Public Policy Question

2012 Petition

A public policy petition should be filed if an individual intends to submit instructions to the state senator or state representative from a district on a non-binding question of public policy.

How to Originate a Public Policy Question

To put a public policy question on the ballot in a particular district at the next regular state election, at least twelve hundred (1,200) voters in a state senatorial district and two hundred (200) voters in a state representative district must sign the petition. Generally, public policy questions involve a determination of what governmental action is desirable or necessary for the public interest.

The question must be fit for legislative action. It must provide a legislator with an instruction or direction regarding governmental action.

It is recommended that a petitioner submit a public policy question in the following form: "Shall the (senator or representative) from this district be instructed to vote in favor of legislation (describe the legislation you wish to be enacted)?"

For more information, please contact the Elections Division before circulating a petition. 

Where to Get Forms

Petitioners may obtain forms for public policy questions from the:

Secretary of the Commonwealth
Elections Division
One Ashburton Place, Room 1705
Boston, Massachusetts 02108

The petitions include a space designated for the text of the public policy question. Petitioners are strongly encouraged to consult the Office of the Attorney General and/or the Elections Division about the wording of their question before circulating their petition.

Excluded Questions and Summary

The Attorney General determines whether or not the question is one of public policy. The Attorney General's decision, in the absence of bad faith, is final and not reviewable in court. In order to qualify for placement on the state election ballot, the question (or one that was substantially the same) cannot have been disapproved by the district's voters in the previous state election. Finally, no more than three public policy questions may appear in each district in any year.

Final Form of the Question

The Secretary of the Commonwealth and the Attorney General draft the final form in which the question will appear on the ballot.

How is the Public Policy Question Passed

The public policy question must receive a majority of all votes cast in the district at the election to constitute an instruction to the legislator.

What Force Does a Public Policy Question Have

A question of public policy is not binding upon the vote of the legislator on that issue. Former Attorney General Paul A. Dever wrote that a public policy question ". . . was to afford an opportunity to the voters to apprise their senators and representatives of their sentiments upon important public questions."

Legal References:

  • Massachusetts Constitution, Part 1, Article XIX.
  • Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 53, sections 19-22 (2004 ed.).

Calendar of Events for Public Policy Petition

Calendar of Events

Legal Deadlines


Secretary of the Commonwealth has petition forms ready for the Public.

By the 15th Tuesday before the filing deadline with the Secretary.

April 24, 2012

Petitions must be submitted to local registrars for certification.

By the 28th day before the filing deadline with the Secretary.

July 3, 2012

Petitions must be filed with the
Secretary by the requisite number of voters according to the district

By the 1st Wednesday of August before the election at which the question is to be submitted.

August 1, 2012

Question appears on the ballots in the district. The question is not binding and the results are advisory to the senator or representative.

State Election Day

November 6, 2012