Massachusetts ballot initiative campaigns file a joint lawsuit seeking permission to gather signatures electronically

On April 26, the campaigns sponsoring the Massachusetts “Right to Repair” Initiative, the Ranked-Choice Voting Initiative, the Nursing Homes Medicaid Ratemaking Initiative, and the Beer and Wine in Food Stores Initiative filed a joint lawsuit against Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin asking the Supreme Judicial Court to allow the campaigns to gather the second round of 13,347 signatures electronically.

Petitioners argued, “Without immediate relief from this Court, Petitioners and all other ballot proponents similarly situated will face an unduly burdensome Catch-22: either risk their health and the health of voters to satisfy unjustifiable and unachievable ballot restrictions and participate in democracy or protect their health and give up their fundamental right to access the ballot.” The petitioners could not seek relief from the number of signatures required or the July 1 deadline because they are determined by the state Constitution.

In Massachusetts, citizens may propose initiated state statutes and initiated constitutional amendments. The power of initiative is indirect in Massachusetts, which means the Massachusetts General Court must consider any successful initiative proposals. The deadline for the Massachusetts General Court to act on the petitions is May 5. If a statute proposed by a valid initiative petition is not adopted, proponents must collect by July 1 another smaller round of 13,347 signatures to place the statute on the ballot.

On April 17, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reduced the number of signatures needed by half, allowed some use of electronic signature gathering for certain offices, and extended the deadline to May 5 for candidates seeking to appear on the September 1 primary ballot.

Assistant Attorney General Anne Sterman wrote a response to the ballot initiative lawsuit on behalf of Secretary Galvin stating that the Secretary was working to negotiate with the campaigns and believed the Court should not grant the petitioners more relief than was offered to the primary candidates.

Additional reading:
Massachusetts “Right to Repair” Initiative (2020)
Massachusetts Ranked-Choice Voting Initiative (2020)
Massachusetts Nursing Homes Medicaid Ratemaking Initiative (2020)
Massachusetts Beer and Wine in Food Stores Initiative (2020)