and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Monday, February 9, 2004

Memo to members of the ConCon:
Don't kill voters' I&R process

February 9, 2004

To:  Members of the Constitutional Convention

From:  Citizens for Limited Taxation, which has worked with volunteers collecting signatures on eleven initiative petitions and therefore knows what it is talking about when it says:

Item 3 on the ConCon agenda would kill the initiative petition process in Massachusetts.

How ironic, that as legislators try to deal with voter pressure on Item 8, they are also being asked by Senator Rosenberg to kill the initiative petition process that could have spared them the current confusion.

Legislators ignored a valid initiative petition to place an earlier version of DOMA on the 2004 ballot. Though this is not our issue, our consistent defense of the Initiative & Referendum process requires that we point out the wrong that was done signers of that petition when the Legislature ignored it and them in 2002.

Because it should have been voted on as an initiative amendment, as the constitution mandates, Item 8 acquires the standing of a voter-initiated issue, even if belatedly. We are encouraged to learn that Senator Travaglini, unlike his predecessor, will "allow" a ConCon vote on DOMA.

We would, however, point out that other legislative amendments do not carry that voter-initiated weight, so there is no particular reason to support them.

Item 1  is a very very bad idea, giving incumbents four years to raise money that could not be matched by a challenger, and voters four years to forget any bad behavior. CLT urges a  "No"  vote on a four year term for legislators.

Item 3,  a proposal to kill the Initiative and Referendum (I&R), was already rejected by the Election Laws Committee and we are grateful for the respect shown by that committee for the voters’ initiative. We hope you will vote with the Committee that S 362  Ought NOT to Pass.

The I&R has been used in Massachusetts by activist groups from all sides of the political spectrum: fiscal conservatives like us, tax hike liberals, animal rights activists, environmentalists, and good government groups. You will note that none of the petitions that were filed last fall got enough signatures to get on the ballot. Even CLT, with its years of experience, has a hard time getting enough to survive challenges by opponents and make it to the voters. Only groups with lots of money to hire professionals could survive Item 3: citizen-participation would be dead.

We urge you to vote to preserve the people’s initiative petition process, to vote  "No"  on Senator Rosenberg’s attempt to kill it


Coalition to Protect Citizen Initiatives

Contact: Pam Wilmot, Common Cause Massachusetts
Feb. 6, 2004

Ballot initiative process must be preserved

As the issue of gay marriage dominates the headlines, a host of other hot-button items slated for a vote at Wednesday's legislative Constitutional Convention have snuck under the political radar. These include eliminating the Governor's Council, increasing legislative terms from two to four years, and most dangerously, a proposal to all but eliminate citizen's ability to use the initiative and referendum process in Massachusetts. 

Senator Stanley Rosenberg, D-Northampton, is pushing a constitutional amendment to drastically increase the number of signatures required to place issues on the ballot and to replace the Attorney General and Secretary of State with a new commission to write ballot language. 

State Secretary William Galvin, the Attorney General's Deputy Government Bureau Chief Peter Sacks, and a broad coalition of citizens groups including Common Cause, MASSPIRG, Citizens for Limited Taxation, CPPAX, Mass Voters for Clean Elections, Sierra Club of Massachusetts, and GREY 2K USA oppose the amendment and testified against it at a legislative hearing last spring. Subsequently the Election Laws Committee gave the proposal an unfavorable report, and we hope that legislators will follow suit on Wednesday. 

Since its adoption in 1918, the initiative petition process has given Massachusetts citizens a direct voice in their government. When it was enacted at the beginning of the last century, the Speaker of the House at the time said that the newly enacted petition process "means that this government shall be brought back to the real control of the people" and it would limit the power of lobbyists and other special interests to dominate the legislative process. 

Now, even more than at its adoption, the citizen initiative process is an essential tool for addressing issues that the legislature cannot or will not enact. Initiatives have resulted in the Bottle Bill, anti- smoking programs, the campaign finance office, the state Ethics Commission, the Financial Disclosure Law and conflicts of interest laws, several campaign finance reforms, Proposition 2˝, tax rollbacks, and the defeat of tax rollbacks. 

Of course the initiative process, and some of the laws proposed through it, have generated controversy and debate and have undoubtedly resulted in policies that many citizens disagree with. But that's exactly as it should be -- part of the rationale for a vital initiative process is to engage citizens in their government. By its very nature, the initiative presents a challenge to the status quo, and as such has ruffled many feathers over the years. 

The proposed constitutional amendment raises the number of signatures required to place a question on the ballot from the current level of 65,825 certified signatures, to 99,316 for a statutory change and 119,180 for a constitutional amendment. With today's dual career, fast-paced society, it is a Herculean effort for volunteers to collect enough signatures under current requirements, especially with the state's SJC ruling that throws out petitions with stray marks. Groups must collect roughly 50 percent more signatures above the total requirement in order to assure survival in a signature challenge. While monied interests will still be able to buy their way onto the ballot with impunity if these increases are enacted, citizens groups will no longer be able to qualify initiative petitions with volunteers alone.

More paid signature gatherers, in turn, means more potential for fraud -- an issue we all should be concerned about.

Higher signature requirements will also place additional burdens on cities and towns, who must certify each signature collected, at a time when many towns are laying off election officials and assistant clerks, not to mention teachers and police.

The Massachusetts ballot initiative process as a whole is already the most restrictive in the country, with stringent limitations on what issues can be addressed by initiative petition, requirements for legislative review and negotiation with proponents, and the shortest collection window in the nation. It is what scholars call the "most indirect of any American initiative procedure." 

In addition to raising the signature requirements, the legislation removes the authority to set the ballot title and summary from the Secretary of State and Attorney General and place it in the hands of a new commission. The composition of that panel is problematic -- with the potential of three pollsters serving on it. The ballot title and summary process should be a legal process and not a political one. 

More importantly, the current system of summaries and titles is working just fine. The titles and summaries currently prepared by the Attorney General and Secretary of State have been cited by national observers of the initiative process as some of the best in the nation. They have been fair, neutral, and accurate, as required by the constitution, and have been infrequently challenged in court. None has been declared deficient since 1951, a record not matched in other states. By making the process of setting summaries, titles, and explanations a political one, titles and summaries will be less rather than more accurate, neutral, and fair. Litigation is sure to increase, along with the number of successful challenges.

Heller School professor John McDonough, a former legislator from Jamaica Plain, recently wrote about the initiative process in CommonWealth magazine, ". we may (soon) see something unprecedented since 1917: serious discussion of reforming a vehicle that, if treated with proper respect, is in no need of reform. It's hard to see how we could make the Massachusetts ballot-initiative process better. But it's easy to see how we could make it worse."

Massachusetts legislators will be making it worse if they adopt this misguided amendment. At a time when more than 70 percent of incumbents face virtually no electoral challenge, when voter participation is on the wane, and when the legislature is increasingly unresponsive to the people it is elected to serve, the ballot initiative process has never been more needed. Legislators should vote against the amendment.

Pamela Wilmot is the Executive Director of Common Cause of Massachusetts.

Common Cause Mass. Citizens for Limited Taxation


MASSPIRG Ballot Initiative Strategy Center

Sierra Club of Mass.

CPPAX Mass. Voters for Clean Elections

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