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The LWVMA Study on the Massachusetts Ballot Question Process

The Study Proposal

The proposal for this study, presented to the membership and adopted at the 2017 LWVMA Convention:

The Study Scope

The scope of the study is to review the Massachusetts laws and regulations that govern statewide citizen-initiated ballot questions (initiative and referendum process); consider the consequences of current laws and regulations; and propose concrete next steps that LWVMA could take to enact change, if the study results in recommended change.

Those concrete steps could include drafts of legislation and/or Constitutional amendments needed to implement any recommended changes. By proposing concrete steps, the League will be ready to take action based on the study’s positions.

Examples of areas of study will include but are not limited to the goals of the initiative and referendum process; funding; signature requirements; the length, subject matter and complexity of ballot questions; and the regulations around accepting and rejecting signatures. Research will include but not be limited to procedures in other states, past Massachusetts ballot questions, funds expended, and procedures for changing current laws and regulations.

Study Committee

Karen Price, Co-Chair, LWVMA board, LWV-Needham
Donna Hooper, Co-Chair, LWVMA board, LWV-Lexington
Karen Callanan, LWVMA Member at Large
Carol Patey, LWV-Needham
Florence Seldin, LWV-Cape Cod Area

To contact the study committee email bqstudy@lwvma.org.

Study Timeline

April 29, 2017 LWVMA Convention approves the study
August 26, 2017 LWVMA Board approves the study committee
May 4, 2018 Study committee presents consensus questions to the LWVMA Board for discussion
June 2018 Study committee posts study materials on the LWVMA website
June-November 2018 Local Leagues form study committees
Fall 2018 Final Study Guide and Consensus Questions available to Local Leagues
Dec. 1, 2018 – Feb. 15, 2019 Local Leagues hold consensus meetings
Feb. 16, 2019 Deadline for consensus reports to be submitted
Spring 2019,
2019  Convention
New position is circulated to local Leagues and adopted by Convention delegates

Study Documents

MA Government Documents

 Scholarly and Opinion Pieces

Online Resources

Test your knowledge of ballot questions in Massachusetts

1. Massachusetts is one of ________ states that can create a law through a citizen-initiated process?

A. 50, B. 31, C. 21, D. 10

2. It takes _______ signatures to start the ballot question process, and over 65,000 to complete it.

A. 5, B. 10, C. 20, D. 100

3. A citizen-initiated process has successfully amended the MA constitution __________ times since 1919.

A. 2, B. 5, C. 11, D. 15

Answers:

1:C; 2:B; 3:A

 

New State Study

A new state study of the ballot question process in Massachusetts will be conducted over the next two years with local League consensus meetings likely in the fall of 2018 through early 2019, leading to a position presented to convention in 2019.

The scope of the study will be to review Massachusetts laws and regulations that govern the ballot question process, consider the consequences of current law based on past ballot questions, and propose concrete next steps that LWVMA could take to enact change, if the study results in recommended change.  Those concrete steps could include drafts of legislation and/or Constitutional amendments needed to implement any recommended changes. By proposing concrete steps, the League will be ready to take action based on the study’s positions.

Examples of areas of study will include but are not limited to the goals of ballot questions; funding; signature requirements; the length, subject matter and complexity of ballot questions; and the regulations around accepting and rejecting signatures. Research will include but not be limited to procedures in other states, past Massachusetts ballot questions, funds expended, and procedures for changing current laws and procedures.

If you are interested in serving on the study committee to develop materials and questions, please complete the application by downloading the document in Word, completing it, and emailing it to bgorman@lwvma.org.

New League Positions on Campaign Finance, Constitutional Amendment

Over the past year, Leagues across the country participated in two national studies: the Constitutional Amendment Study and the Money in Politics study. The two studies have led to new national positions based on the input of local and state Leagues.

The Constitutional Amendment study led to two positions, on considerations for evaluating Constitutional amendment proposals, which you can read here, and on safeguards to govern the Constitutional convention process, here.

The Money in Politics study led to a position calling for specific actions and setting long-term goals to get big money out of the political process. You can read that position here.

In Massachusetts, a steering committee for the studies gave Leagues support and encouraged multi-League events. We thank that committee for its efforts and all of the local Leagues which submitted consensus reports.

Money in Politics (Announced April 2016)

Twenty Massachusetts Leagues participated in the Money in Politics study, part of 335 nationwide: Amherst, Arlington, Acton Area, Brookline, Cape Ann Area, Cape Cod Area, Concord-Carlisle, Grafton, Hamilton-Wenham, Marblehead, Needham, Newton, Northampton Area, Norwood, Sudbury, Waltham, Weston, Westwood-Walpole-Dedham, Williamstown and Winchester. Two Massachusetts members served on the national study committee, Launa Zimmaro from LWV Concord-Carlisle and Corlette Moore McCoy from LWV Needham.

In part, the position calls for:

  • Full public financing of Congressional as well as Presidential elections.
  • Abolishing Super PACs and spending coordinated or directed by candidates.
  • Restrictions on direct donations and bundling by lobbyists.

In addition to the traditional reason for campaign finance regulation – preventing corruption and undue influence in government – the League now supports several other goals, including:

  • Enhance political equality for all citizens.
  • Protect representative democracy from being distorted by big spending in election campaigns.
  • Provide voters sufficient information about candidates and campaign issues to make informed choices.
  • Ensure transparency and the public’s right to know who is using money to influence elections.
  • Enable candidates to compete equitably for public office.

Constitutional Amendment (Announced February 2016)

Fifteen Massachusetts Leagues joined 246 nationwide in the Constitutional Amendment Study. Congratulations and thanks to the Leagues that submitted a consensus report: Acton Area, Amherst, Arlington, Cape Cod Area, Concord-Carlisle, Falmouth, Marblehead, Needham, Newton, Northampton Area, Norwood, Sudbury, Wellesley, Westwood-Walpole-Dedham and Winchester.

The LWVUS Constitutional Amendment Study has led to two separate national positions:

Considerations for Evaluating Constitutional Amendment Proposals: The League will only support a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution if it advances and conforms to an LWVUS position.

In addition, the League believes the following should be considered in identifying an appropriate and well-crafted Constitutional amendment:

  • Whether the public policy objective addresses matters of such acute and abiding importance that the fundamental charter of our nation must be changed.
  • Whether the amendment as written would be effective in achieving its policy objective. Amendments that may be unenforceable, miss the objective, or have unintended consequences may not achieve the policy objective.
  • Whether the amendment would either make our political system more democratic or protect individual rights.
  • Whether the public policy objective can be achieved by a legislative or political approach that is less difficult than a Constitutional amendment.
  • Whether the public policy objective is more suited to a Constitutional and general approach than to a statutory and detailed approach.

Final Position Constitutional Conventions under Article V of the US Constitution: The League is concerned that there are many unresolved questions about the powers and processes of an Article V Constitutional Convention. The League believes such a convention should be called only if the following conditions are in place:

  • The Constitutional Convention must be transparent and not conducted in secret. The public has a right to know what is being debated and voted on.
  • Representation at the Constitutional Convention must be based on population rather than one state, one vote, and delegates should be elected rather than appointed.
  • Voting at the Constitutional Convention must be by delegate, not by state.
  • The Constitutional Convention must be limited to a specific topic.
  • Only state resolutions on a single topic count when determining if a Constitutional Convention should be called.
  • The validity of state calls for an Article V Constitutional Convention must be determined by the most recent action of the state.

Study Guides and Consensus Questions Now Available for LWVUS Studies

Find information on the LWVUS studies quickly! Most of the materials for the two studies—on the Constitutional amendment process and on Money in Politics—are now available. The easiest way to get to these resources is to go to lwvma.org, look on the right under Quick Links, and choose LWVUS Constitutional Amendment Study and Money in Politics (MIP) Review and Update. There are three webpages: one overall summary and one for each study.

The newest addition is the Study Guide for the MIP study. It includes background, links to reading materials, definitions, and consensus questions. This guide will likely be updated as a few more reference materials are finalized, so be sure to check back at the link below to get the most updated version when you are ready to use it.

Click here for the Money in Politics Study Guide with consensus questions (scroll to the bottom of the webpage for downloadable files).

Click here for the consensus questions only.

The Study Guide for the Constitutional Amendment study is also available, as well as the survey form for reporting the results of your consensus meetings (due Dec. 1).

Click here for the Study Guide with consensus questions (scroll to the bottom for downloadable files).

Click here for the consensus questions only.

Click here to report the results of your League’s consensus.

Remember: Deadlines for submitting your consensus reports (one per League):

  • Dec. 1 for Constitutional Amendment
  • Feb. 1 for Money in Politics

There are also two national email discussion groups, one for each study:

Constitutional Amendment: To subscribe, send an email message to this address: lwvconamend-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Money in Politics: Link to and join the group from https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/lwv-money-in-politics

A list of local League study-related events can be found here.

Please send the Studies Steering Committee your League’s meeting plans as they are finalized to add to our growing list!

LWVUS Constitutional Amendment Study

The LWVUS Constitutional Amendment Study (2015-16) resulted in two separate national positions: Considerations for Evaluating Constitutional Amendment Proposals and Constitutional Conventions under Article V of the US Constitution.

The positions were based on consensus reached by 246 local Leagues (including 15 local Leagues in Massachusetts) and state Leagues and ILOs who participated in the Constitutional Amendment Process study. Leagues from 46 states participated in the study. The positions can be used by state Leagues to address the ongoing debates in many legislatures regarding constitutional conventions, in particular as they relate to the Balanced Budget Amendment (source League Update February 4, 2016).

Final Position Considerations for Evaluating Constitutional Amendment Proposals

The League will only support a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution if it advances and conforms to an LWVUS position.

In addition, the League believes the following should be considered in identifying an appropriate and well-crafted constitutional amendment:

a) Whether the public policy objective addresses matters of such acute and abiding importance that the fundamental charter of our nation must be changed. Amendments are changes to a document that provides stability to our system and should be undertaken to address extreme problems or long-term needs.

b) Whether the amendment as written would be effective in achieving its policy objective. Amendments that may be unenforceable, miss the objective, or have unintended consequences may not achieve the policy objective.

c) Whether the amendment would either make our political system more democratic or protect individual rights. Most adopted amendments have sought to make our system more representative or to protect the rights of minorities.

d) Whether the public policy objective can be achieved by a legislative or political approach that is less difficult than a constitutional amendment. In order to expend resources wisely, it is important to consider whether legislation or political action is more likely to succeed than an amendment.

e) Whether the public policy objective is more suited to a constitutional and general approach than to a statutory and detailed approach. It is important to consider whether the goal can best be achieved by an overall value statement, which will be interpreted by the courts, or with specific statutory detail to resolve important issues and reduce ambiguity.

Final Position Constitutional Conventions under Article V or the US Constitution

The League is concerned that there are many unresolved questions about the powers and processes of an Article V Constitutional Convention. The League believes such a convention should be called only if the following conditions are in place:

a) The Constitutional Convention must be transparent and not conducted in secret. The public has a right to know what is being debated and voted on;

b) Representation at the Constitutional Convention must be based on population rather than one state, one vote, and delegates should be elected rather than appointed. The delegates represent citizens, should be elected by them, and must be distributed by U.S. population;

c) Voting at the Constitutional Convention must be by delegate, not by state. Delegates from one state can have varying views and should be able to express them by individual votes;

d) The Constitutional Convention must be limited to a specific topic. It is important to guard against a “runaway convention” which considers multiple issues or topics that were not initiated by the states;

e) Only state resolutions on a single topic count when determining if a Constitutional Convention should be called. Counting state requests by topic ensures that there is sufficient interest in a particular subject to call a Convention and enhances citizen interest and participation in the process; and

f) The validity of state calls for an Article V Constitutional Convention must be determined by the most recent action of the state. If a state has enacted a rescission of its call, that rescission must be respected by Congress.

Constitutional Amendment Study Materials

Make Your Opinion Count on National Studies

Local Leagues and League members across the state are taking part in two national LWVUS studies this fall and winter. The process began at the national League convention which adopted a study on the Constitutional Amendment process and an update to our campaign finance positions, under the umbrella topic “Structures of Democracy.”

Why do Leagues do studies?  It is a process unique to LWV.  We consider all sides of an issue, then reach member consensus leading to the development of positions on issues.  This thoughtful process sets us apart and helps us retain our respected reputation.

Local League’s role in the process starts with the board/steering committee deciding which studies to take part in and finding members to plan these meetings.

This committee will work to review the study materials  and put together programs and consensus meetings.

A League member’s role is to participate in the studies and join a consensus meeting—make your voice count! If your League is not holding information and/or consensus meetings, there are plenty of opportunities to join other Leagues, where you will be most welcome. See the calendar on the lwvma.org website.  If you need help finding a consensus meeting, email the studies steering committee: lwvus.studies@lwvma.org.

What is consensus?  Participating members discuss both pros and cons of an issue and arrive at a mutual agreement within the consensus group, often termed a “sense of the members” or member understanding. It is not a vote!

After the consensus meeting, the team working on each meeting will make a written recommendation summarizing the result of the consensus meeting to the local League Board/Steering Committee.  That Board/Steering Committee will review the outcome, vote approval, and then assign one member to submit the report to the LWVUS study team. The Constitutional Amendment Study report is due Dec. 1; the Money in Politics Feb. 1.

How is a new or updated position reached?  All the responses from local Leagues across the nation are reviewed by the national League study team. The LWVUS study team develops a proposed position for the LWVUS Board to review and adopt.  Once adopted, it becomes the position of the League of Women Voters and becomes the basis for action.

Where do I start?  Most of the materials for the two studies have been posted. The easiest way to get to these resources is to go to lwvma.org, look on the right under Quick Links, and choose LWVUS Constitutional Amendment Study and Money in Politics Review and Update. There are three webpages: overall and one for each study.

The Study Guides are a good place to start. They include background, links to reading materials, definitions, and consensus questions.

  • Click here for the Study Guide for the Constitutional Amendment Study (scroll to the bottom for downloadable files).
  • Click here for the Study Guide for the Money and Politics Study (scroll to the bottom for downloadable files).

Deadlines for submitting your consensus reports (one per League):

  • Dec. 1 for Constitutional Amendment
  • Feb. 1 for Money in Politics

There are two national email discussion groups, one for each study, that anyone can join:

Massachusetts Leagues Participate in Two LWVUS Studies

Leagues in Massachusetts are working together to participate in two LWVUS studies. This process began at National League convention where the body adopted a study on the Constitutional Amendment Process and an Update to our Campaign Finance positions, under the umbrella topic “Structures of Democracy”.

Why do Leagues do studies?  It is a process unique to LWV.  We consider all sides of an issue, then reach member consensus leading to the development of a position(s) on issues.  This thoughtfulness sets us apart and helps us retain our respected reputation.

Local Leagues across the country are forming committees to review the study materials and put together programs and consensus meetings.

What is consensus?  Participating members discuss both pros and cons of an issue and arrive at a mutual agreement within the consensus group, often termed a “sense of the members” or member understanding. It is not a vote!

After the consensus meeting, the team working on each meeting will make a written recommendation summarizing the result of the consensus meeting to the local League Board/Steering Committee.  The Board/Steering Committee will review the outcome, vote approval, and submit the report to the National League study team (LWVUS).

How is a new or updated position reached?  All the responses from local Leagues across the nation are reviewed by the National League study team. The National League study team develops a proposed position for the National LWV Board to review and adopt.  Once adopted, it becomes the position of the League of Women Voters and becomes the basis for action.

About the two studies

  1. Constitutional Amendment Process
    The League has no position on the Constitutional Amendment process, as delineated in Article V of the US Constitution. This study will seek to develop guidelines for evaluating constitutional amendment proposals, various aspects of an Article V constitutional convention, and how the League should balance process and positions in evaluating amendment proposals.
  2. Money in Politics/ Campaign Finance
    Recent Supreme Court decisions have raised questions about campaign finance that are not addressed by the current National League (LWVUS) position on Campaign Finance, which states: The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that the methods of financing political campaigns should ensure the public’s right to know, combat corruption and undue influence, enable candidates to compete more equitably, allow maximum citizen participation in the political process (1974, 1982).This study will examine the current state of campaign finance and determine if and how the League position should be modified.

Want to join the conversation? Membership in the League of Women Voters is open to all men and women of any age. Click here to join!

For more information on the studies click here.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact the Steering Committee at lwvus.studies@lwvma.org.