Monday, August 29, 2016

To Be on the Ballot or Not to Be on the Ballot: That is the Question

This fall not only we will be voting for the President of the United States but we will have ballot questions to consider. All ballot questions go through the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office to make sure they follow the correct legal standards and are called petitions or initiative petitions.

Massachusetts’ citizens can submit petitions to repeal or amend a particular section of an existing law or constitutional amendment for approval. If the questions get approved they appear on the statewide ballot. Each petition must be signed by ten voters and submitted to the Attorney General’s office by the first Wednesday in August and certification happens on the first Wednesday in September.

After a petition is certified by the Attorney General thousands of additional signatures are gathered (the requirement in 2015 was 64,750) and filed with local election officials by late November and then with the Secretary of State by the first Wednesday in December.

If enough signatures are gathered, the measure is sent to the Legislature; the Legislature approves or disapproves the measure, proposes a substitute, or takes no action.

Unless the Legislature has enacted the measure, the proponents continue to gather additional signatures.  If they gather enough signatures, the measure and any legislative substitute are submitted to the people at the next biennial state election.

The Attorney General has designated the following questions as OB - On Ballot for November 2016:
15-34 An Act Relative to Expanded Gaming - Question 1
15-31 An Act to Allow Fair Access to Public Charter Schools   Question 2
15-11  An Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals   Question 3
15-27 The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act   Question 4

After a ballot question has been approved for the November ballot the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Commonwealth work jointly to prepare voter information materials per Massachusetts General Law chapter 54 section 53. This information includes a short title to the ballot question and fair and neutral sentence statements describing the effect of a yes or no vote.

For additional information on the Initiative Petition consult the Attorney General's web page.

Naomi Allen
Reference Librarian