Limited Taxation
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CLT Update
Friday, July 16, 1999

June 16, 1999
Re:  Today's SJC Decision on the Initiative Petition Process

This weekend is probably not, as Nostrodamus seems to have predicted, the end of the world: but the initiative petition process that has long dominated Massachusetts politics is facing a major inconvenience.

Incredibly, the Supreme Judicial Court has again ruled that an initiative petition must be pristine when it is turned in at the end of a petition drive. Volunteers who carry their petitions in their pockets and purses for eight weeks must be careful not to get an extraneous mark on them. Volunteers at a mall table may not write the name of the town upside down on the sheet for the convenience of signers. Town clerks may not write the phone number of the local person who turns it in on the top of the sheet.

What this means to organizations from all sides of the political spectrum is that they will have to collect many more signatures than the state constitution seems to require, to account for accidental and incidental markings on the petition forms.

CLT, which filed an amicus brief in support of the Coalition for Parental Choice in Education petition, is polling its members on their involvement in Governor Cellucci's petition drive to rollback the income tax rate, and expects to be an ally with him on this project. We will have to collect at least twice as many signatures as we would have had to collect had the SJC decision been more reasonable, so we are more glad than ever that we will not have to do this alone.

CLT is prepared to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any person caught deliberately marking any of our petitions in order to cause them to be declared invalid.

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Click here for the full opinion of the state Supreme Judicial Kangaroo Court

State House News Service
July 16, 1999

In Blow to School Vouchers,
SJC Rules Against Ballot Signatures

JULY 16, 1999 ... EJB ... In a blow to the school voucher movement, the state's highest court ruled today against a coalition seeking to repeal by ballot initiative the constitutional prohibition against giving public money to private or parochial schools.

The Coalition for Parental Choice in Education mounted a ballot campaign last year to repeal the anti-aid amendment of the state Constitution. Secretary of State William Galvin tossed out 3,507 signatures because the sheets they were on had extraneous markings - pen doodles, names of towns, highlighting -- in the margins. That left the coalition 1,675 short of the ballot.

The coalition brought suit against Galvin, arguing that the markings were innocuous and did not influence people's decisions about whether to sign the petition. The secretary of state's office argued that marked-up petitions should be subject to a case-by-case analysis by the state Ballot Law Commission to determine whether a mark had an undue influence.

In a ruling written by SJC Justice Ruth Abrams and issued this morning, the high court turned down both parties' arguments and upheld a "bright line" ruling it made last year in a similar case.

"Like ballot forms and the voting booth, petition forms are thus protected as space free from the tumult and bias of political sloganeering," Abrams wrote today, quoting from the 1998 case.

The court noted that the Legislature has instructed that signatures can only be collected on "exact copies" of petition blanks from the secretary of state. "Exact copy means exact copy," Abrams wrote. "The statute does not permit any alternations of forms, whether by copying machine, petition circulator or petition signer."

The lawsuit's proponents blasted the ruling as the "Dredd Scott of the school choice movement," refering to the Supreme Court ruling stating that Supreme Court ruling upholding slavery.

Boston attorney Michael Gilleran, who brought the suit on behalf of the first ten signers of the petition, predicted that only paid signature gatherers would be able to meet the "pristine petition" burden. He also said opponents would attempt to sabotage petitions by pretending to be signers and marking up the margins.

"Now you've got to have professional signature gatherers, walking around with security guards, holding the petitions in glass bubbles," Gilleran said. "What'll happen is that for the more ordinary, non-exceptional, signature-gathering efforts, many of those will fail because their margins (for required signatures) will be thin. They will be stomped on by this ruling."

Secretary Galvin was also displeased, warning that activists will be faced with gathering a "great surplus" of signatures and will have a harder time bringing issues to the ballot. Like the backers of the lawsuit, Galvin said compliance with the ruling would require more professionally trained petition circulators.

"It's somewhat disappointing," he said. "In the short term, with petition filings coming up next month, it probably means that for 2000, we're looking at this being an operable rule and it probably means fewer petitions getting on the ballot."

The ruling could also have ramifications for other signature-gathering efforts such as political candidate nomination papers, Galvin said. The SJC raised that possibility in a footnote of the ruling, but didn't resolve the question.

"I suspect it would create much more difficulty for candidates to get on the ballot," Galvin said, adding that litigation will "certainly" follow. "I think that's probably as significant as the ruling on petitions."

Per order of another SJC footnote, Galvin said he's considering redesigning the format of petition forms, perhaps to include a box where people could write phone numbers or other non-advocacy information. "I have to research it," he said. "It's unclear from the footnote what the court's inviting me to do."

The Massachusetts Teachers Association said in a statement that it was "extremely pleased" with the ruling. In oral and written arguments before the court, lawyers for the MTA disagreed with both the process of the signature gathering and the merits of the petition.

"Allowing public tax dollars to be spent on sending children to private and parochial schools would severely drain resources away from public education," said MTA President Stephen Gorrie. "It would also tear down the separation between church and state -- a separation with a long and honorable history in this country."

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