Massachusetts becomes the first state to allow electronic signatures for 2020 ballot initiative petitions

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 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to allow the campaigns to gather the second round of 13,347 signatures electronically.

On April 29, all four active ballot initiative campaigns and Secretary Galvin agreed to a resolution that allows the campaigns to gather the second round of signatures electronically. The resolution allows campaigns to distribute the petitions online to be electronically signed or printed and mailed or emailed back to the respective campaign.

Justice Barbara Lenk, who issued the judgment, determined that typed names would not be considered valid signatures. The judgment stated, “Voters who wish to sign the Form online shall apply an electronic signature with a computer mouse, stylus, or finger, in-person directly on the Form. A typewritten name, uploaded image, or computer-generated generic signature shall not be considered a genuine signature of a voter.”

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 initiative petitions that meet the first-round signature deadline and requirement (80,239 for 2020). 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. Four initiative campaigns submitted enough signatures to qualify their measures for review by the state legislature. The petitioners did not seek relief from the number of signatures required or the July 1 deadline because those requirements are determined by the state Constitution.

Ballot initiative sponsors in Arkansas, Montana, Arizona, Colorado, Ohio, and Oklahoma have also filed lawsuits seeking relief from signature deadlines and requirements due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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)