Big issues clear signatures bar as state ballot measures

AP FILE PHOTO/STEVEN SENNE

AP FILE PHOTO/STEVEN SENNE AP FILE PHOTO/STEVEN SENNE

By COLIN A. YOUNG

State House News Service

Published: 11-24-2023 4:37 PM

Leaders of at least a half-dozen initiative petition campaigns working toward the November 2024 ballot said Wednesday they had collected at least enough signatures to meet an end-of-the-day deadline and to put their policy ideas in front of the Legislature this spring.

Campaigns angling to do away with the MCAS test as a graduation requirement; address the rights and benefits for drivers on app-based platforms (one offered by an industry-backed coalition and one by a union-backed group); give the state auditor explicit authority to audit the state Legislature; gradually bring the minimum wage for tipped workers into line with the general minimum wage; and legalize psychedelics for therapy have said they gathered more than the 74,574 signatures required to be filed with local election officials by the end of the day Wednesday.

They reflect some of the primary questions that could shape the future of Massachusetts: What is work and what should workers be entitled to? How should the state measure whether its education system is adequately preparing young people for the future? Is the state Legislature transparent enough with the public that elects it?

The signatures must be certified at the local level and Secretary of State William Galvin must validate the totals before any measure advances to the next phase, but clearing the initial signature-gathering threshold is a challenge that routinely dooms prospective ballot questions. Already this year, the campaign that Rep. Mike Connolly mounted to grant cities and towns a range of new “tenant protection” options, including the ability to impose rent control, suspended its initiative petition effort ahead of Wednesday’s deadline.

Proponents of petitions to allow people to register to vote and vote on the same day, require voters to show identification at the polls, and more did not respond to an inquiry from State House News Service on Wednesday. Campaigns that clear the signature threshold are generally eager to share that news. Backers of a proposal to suspend the gas tax are not planning to push forward to the ballot.

Attorney General Andrea Campbell’s office certified 34 ballot question proposals (in some cases representing multiple proposed versions of a potential question) that had been filed by the August deadline on Sept. 6. That gave campaigns the green light to start collecting voter signatures, an amount at least equal to 3% of the total votes cast for candidates for governor, excluding blanks, in the most recent election.

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Campaigns had 11 weeks between certification and Wednesday’s submission deadline.

The same signatures filed by the end of the day Wednesday must be submitted to Galvin’s office by Dec. 6.

Ballot questions with enough signatures certified will head to the Legislature in January. Lawmakers can approve the proposed law, propose their own substitute ballot question or decline to take any action at all.

Lawmakers sometimes want to have control over major policy initiatives if they sense support among voters, instead of allowing activists to write the laws via ballot questions. But many initiative petitions are proposed in part because lawmakers have been unable or unwilling to reach agreement on important policy topics. In other cases, lawmakers have amended ballot laws after they were approved.

In some cases, lawmakers work with proponents to work out a negotiated compromise to keep questions from getting to the ballot, as was the case in 2018 with questions dealing with paid family leave, the minimum wage and the sales tax.

If legislators opt against action by May 1, 2024, campaigns will have to collect another 12,429 signatures and file them with local officials by June 19, 2024, then the Secretary of State’s Office by July 3, 2024, to stay in line for the Nov. 5, 2024 election.