State Ballot Question Petitions

Referendum Petition

A referendum petition should be filed if an individual intends to have a law enacted by the General Court repealed by the voters. A referendum petition can only be used to repeal an entire law; it cannot be used to repeal a section of a law.

How to Originate a Referendum Petition

To originate a referendum petition, at least ten qualified voters of the Commonwealth may draw up and sign an original petition on which they correctly identify the law they wish to have repealed.

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 are then submitted to the Secretary of the Commonwealth no later than 30 days after the act is signed into law by the Governor or passed over his veto.

Some Recommendations

  • It is strongly recommended that each of the signers have physical custody of the law they are seeking to repeal before signing the petition.  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 law they are seeking to repeal. Instead, each of the ten signers should sign the page containing the petition language. Above the name of each signer you may wish to add a statement similar to the following: "I have personally reviewed the law sought to be repealed by this Referendum Petition and agree to be one of the original signers of the petition."
  • The voter registration certificate of each signer may be separately attached to the petition.

Excluded Subjects and Summary

The Constitution excludes from the Referendum subjects that relate to religion, judges, the courts, particular localities of the Commonwealth, state appropriations and certain provisions of the state constitution's Declaration of Rights. The Attorney General prepares a summary of the act to be repealed. Within 14 days after receiving the summary from the Attorney General, the Secretary of the Commonwealth prepares referendum petition form blanks with the summary printed thereon for gathering signatures of registered voters.

How Many Signatures Are Required

The number of certified signatures required depends on three factors:

  • whether the law in question has an emergency declaration (and therefore is constitutionally barred from being suspended);
  • whether the petitioners request the law be suspended upon filing the petition; and
  • the number of votes cast for Governor at the last biennial state election, excluding blanks.

If the repeal is sought on an emergency law or on a law whose suspension is not requested by the petitioners, the number of certified signatures required is 1 1/2 % of the total vote cast for Governor (excluding blanks) at the last state election. This figure is 34,456 until the results of the 2014 state election are certified by the Governor's Council; no more than one-fourth of these 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 8,614).

If the original petition filed by ten registered voters requests suspension in writing, the law will be suspended from taking effect when the referendum petition is filed. (Again, this does not apply to emergency laws.) The number of signatures required to suspend the law upon filing of the petition is 2 % of the total vote cast for Governor (excluding blanks) at the last state election. This figure is 45,941 until the results of the 2014 state election are certified by the Governor's Council; no more than one-fourth of these 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 11,485).

How is the Referendum Passed

The ballot question that results from a referendum petition must read as follows:

"Do you approve of a law summarized below, which
was approved by the House of Representatives by a
vote of _______ on _______ (date) and approved by
the Senate by a vote of _______ on _______ (date)?"

In order to repeal that law, 30% of voters who cast ballots in the election must vote in favor of the above question and against the existing law passed by the legislature, and at least half of those voting on the question must vote in favor of the above question against the existing law.

Legal References:

  • Articles XLVIII, LXVII, 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).

Calendar of Events for Referendum Petition

Calendar of Events

Legal Deadlines*

Submission of petition to Secretary of the Commonwealth by ten original signers.

No later than 30 days after act is signed by Governor (or passed over his veto).

Secretary prepares petition forms for collection of required number of signatures.

Within 14 days after summary is prepared by Attorney General.

Filing of petitions with local registrars for certification.

By 14 days before filing deadline with the Secretary.

Petitions with certified signatures filed with the Secretary.

Within 90 days after the act is signed by the Governor (or passed over his veto).

Petitions submitted to the voters; Suspended law immediately null and void if law disapproved.

First state election 60 or more days after filing certified petitions with the Secretary.

If voters approve, suspended law becomes effective. If they do not approve, non-suspended law is repealed.

30 days after election.

* If a deadline falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, the deadline is the next weekday. Check with the Elections Division for exact dates.