October 27, 2005
S2251 – Another bill to kill the initiative petition
heads to the Senate floor
As taxpayers prepare to celebrate the 25th
anniversary of Proposition 2˝ – 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
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
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
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
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 2˝ 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.