The LWVMA Study on the Massachusetts Ballot Question Process

LWVMA Position
The Initiative and Referendum Process in Massachusetts

LWVMA studied the process for statewide citizen-initiated ballot questions in 2018-2019. 36 local Leagues held consensus meetings in connection with this study.  The membership approved this position at the LWVMA Convention on June 8, 2019.

The League confirmed that it supports having a mechanism for three types of initiative petitions that may lead to statewide ballot questions: initiative for a law, initiative for a constitutional amendment, and referendum on an existing law.

The League supports:

  • Petition summaries that are written for the greatest understanding by voters.
  • Providing more extensive voter information on the fiscal impact of ballot questions in the “Information for Voters” provided by the Secretary of the Commonwealth and through other channels of communication.
  • Voter information in the “Information for Voters” provided by the Secretary of the Commonwealth that includes arguments in favor and against prepared by an unbiased independent source such as a citizen group appointed for that purpose, in addition to those prepared by the proponents and opponents.
  • A periodic review and update by the Secretary of the Commonwealth of the means of disseminating and publicizing information for voters.
  • Modifying the signature-gathering requirement that “not more than one-fourth of the certified signatures on any petition shall be those of registered voters of any one county.”  The League supports a system that provides geographic dispersion of signatures but represents population distribution equitably.  Such a system could be based, for example, on geographic regions of similar population such as Congressional or legislative districts.
  • Including in the signature count every identifiable and unique signature on the petition.
  • The Secretary of the Commonwealth providing training opportunities for signature collectors.
  • The current requirement for votes in two joint sessions held by two successively elected Legislatures for an initiative for a Constitutional Amendment.
  • Limiting the amount of money spent on ballot question campaigns.
  • Ensuring that accurate information on campaign donations and expenditures for ballot question committees be available to the public prior to the election.

The League opposes:

  • Limiting the length of the full text of a proposed law.
  • A second round of signatures after the legislature has time to act on an initiative for a law.

Prepared by the Study Member Agreement Committee: Karen Price and Donna Hooper (Co-Chairs), Nancy Brumback, Karen Callanan, Carol Patey, and Florence Seldin.

Download the above position here.

Part of the scope of the study was to “propose concrete next steps that LWVMA could take to enact change, if the study results in recommended changes.” Next steps and possible examples of action may include, but are not limited to, the examples given in this document.

Why a League Study?

This study incorporates the intersection of the League’s areas of mission: voting and advocacy. LWVMA has not studied the initiative and referendum process in MA and has no positions on this aspect of voting/elections.

LWVMA Study Documents

Consensus Meeting Documents

What Should Local Leagues and Units Do?

Watch the Webinar on Conducting the Study

Topics covered included an overview of the study, study materials, role of local Leagues/Units/members-at-large, consensus meetings, reporting consensus results, and getting further help.

Watch the webinar on YouTube.

Identify a Study Contact

The LWVMA Study Committee is asking each participating League/Unit to identify a Study Contact. This person will receive periodic information about the study and updates. Please email bqstudy@lwvma.org with the League/Unit name and Study Contact name and email address.

Save your red booklets “Information for Voters 2018”

All League members should save their red booklets, which were distributed by mail to the households of all registered voters starting September 24. Bring them to the consensus meeting as a reference for several consensus questions.

Form a local study committee

The study committee will use the materials provided to become familiar with the subject and the consensus questions. It will coordinate a consensus meeting and report the results to the LWVMA. The committee should check the LWVMA website regularly and begin reading the materials posted. The committee will become the local “experts,” and an important link between local Leagues and the LWVMA study committee.

Schedule local consensus meetings

As you plan your calendar, include at least one time for a consensus meeting. Some Leagues may want to schedule two, one in the daytime and one in the evening. It is up to the local League to determine the best format. Consensus meetings should be held within December 1 to February 15. The local board must approve the consensus report, so be sure to leave time to complete this step.

Submit your League’s Consensus Report to LWVMA

Consensus Reports are due to the LWVMA by February 16, 2019. Please submit your report online at this link. To prepare for your board’s approval and the online submission, download this editable Word file for internal use.

How can my League or Unit get help?

Study Timeline

June-November 2018Local Leagues form study committees
September 7, 2018Final Study Guide and Study Report posted
October 1, 2018All materials posted
October 15, 2018; 7:30 pmWebinar*
October 17, 2018 ; 11 amWebinar*
November 13, 2018; 7:30 pmWebinar*
November 14, 2018; 3 pmWebinar*
Dec. 1, 2018 – Feb. 15, 2019Local Leagues hold consensus meetings
February 16, 2019Deadline for consensus reports to be submitted
June 7-8, LWVMA Convention 2019New position is circulated to local Leagues and adopted by Convention delegates

*The four webinars will all cover the same subject matter and will be about 1 hour long.

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.

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.