and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

October 27, 2005

S2251 – Another bill to kill the initiative petition process
heads to the Senate floor

As taxpayers prepare to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Proposition 2½ – the most successful initiative petition in the history of the commonwealth – the state Senate prepares to take up a bill to kill the initiative petition process.

As CLT’s associate director, Chip Faulkner, said at the hearing last week on alleged voter fraud, any citizen who signs a petition on gay marriage thinking it is a petition on either horses or wine sales "has the IQ of an eggplant" and probably shouldn’t be signing things.

This bill, which allows easy access to voters' names, then allows them to withdraw their names from the petition up to 45 days from signing it. This is an invitation to harassment by opponents of a petition, and in short time the destruction of the process itself. The bill pretends that there are penalties for this inevitable harassment, which is in the eye of the beholder. He said-she said would be near-impossible to unravel, never mind to bother prosecuting and proving for a conviction. This provision is meaningless, and only meant to give the impression that the Election Laws Committee disapproves of harassment.

It would be nice to jail anyone who "wilfully defaces" a petition, but prove wilful. "Sorry, officer, the pen slipped; I spilled my coffee; I was just reading it and it fell in the mud."

S2251 is clearly unconstitutional. Article 48 of the Massachusetts Constitution strictly defines the procedure and timing for advancing a petition: from its filing, to the streets, to the city/town halls, to the Secretary of State, to the Legislature, and if the Legislature doesn’t pass it, to the people. There is no allowance within Article 48 to suspend this process just because some eggplants decide, for some reason, to withdraw their names – and no statute can amend the Constitution.

If it must deal with this non-issue, the Legislature should at least pause to ask for a ruling on the constitutionality of S2251. We know from the recent drunk-driving ("Melanie’s Law") debate that the legislative leadership is expressly adverse in the extreme to passing legislation that might later be ruled unconstitutional. The Election Laws Committee is in a hurry, however, to interfere with the defense of marriage petition.

Gay activists who are threatening the entire petition process are making enemies of people who aren’t otherwise opposed to gay marriage. Instead they should gather together their best arguments and sell their point of view, rather than attempting to keep initiative petitions off the ballot.

The Election Laws Committee is acting as if it thinks all voters fall into the eggplant category. Colored petitions? When volunteers download a petition, must they have the exact right colored paper in their printers? Regardless of the color, the official title and summary are right there on the top of the sheet the voter is signing, for crying out loud.

Those who drafted this bill have obviously never done a statewide petition drive, and either have no idea how hard it is already to do one, or have deliberately set out to kill the process so that nothing like Proposition 2½ can ever succeed again.

The major point of initiative petitions isn’t to give voters something to sign; the point is to give voters an issue to decide on the ballot. In all the years that voters have been making laws, fraud hasn’t been a problem. It’s not a problem now.

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