An initiative petition is a way for citizens to propose binding laws and constitutional amendments for approval by the voters on the statewide ballot.
The first step in the process is for 10 voters to sign the petition containing the proposed law or constitutional amendment and to file it with the Attorney General's Office. For more information, visit the AG's Initiative Petition Process Summary page of this site.
A referendum petition is a way for citizens to seek to repeal a law recently enacted by the state Legislature.
The first step in the process is for 10 voters to sign a petition seeking repeal of the law and to file it with the Secretary of the Commonwealth within 30 days after the law became a law. The Secretary then asks the Attorney General to render an opinion on whether the law is of the type that is subject to a referendum; certain types of laws are excluded.
For more information, view the Secretary of State's guide on Referendum Petitions.
Non-Binding Public Policy Questions
A non-binding public policy question is a question placed on the ballot by voter petition in an individual state senatorial or representative district or district, asking whether the senator or representative from that district should be instructed to vote in favor of specific legislative action - usually a law or a resolution.
The first step in the process is for 1,200 voters in a state senatorial district, or 200 voters in a state representative district, to sign the petition specifying the legislative action desired.
Coordinated efforts to place similar or identically-worded petitions on the ballots in multiple senatorial or representative districts are permitted.
The Attorney General and Secretary of the Commonwealth are responsible for determining the final wording of eligible questions and will informally review draft questions at the sponsors' request.
The process is governed by M.G.L. c. 53, s. 19 to 22. More information is available on the Secretary of State's Web guide on Public Policy Questions.
Local Ballot Questions
There are numerous types of local (city or town) ballot questions with which the Attorney General ordinarily plays no role. These include:
- An initiative in a city ( M.G.L. c. 43, s. 37-41 and 43-44), a referendum in a city ( M.G.L. c. 43, s. 42-44), or a referendum in a town with a representative town meeting ( M.G.L. c. 43A, s. 10).
- Note: Some cities and towns have special provisions in their charters, setting up a different initiative and/or referendum process.
- A "Proposition 2½ " override, which specifies the wording of the various types of questions that may be placed on the ballot ( M.G.L. c. 59, s. 21C).
- The question of whether a city or town should accept the Community Preservation Act ( M.G.L. c. 44B, s. 3).
- See also the Secretary of State's publication, A Guide to Local Acceptance of the Community Preservation Act.
- Questions concerning whether to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages in a city or town ( M.G.L. c. 138, s. 11-11A).
- A nonbinding public opinion advisory question in a city or town (M.G.L. c. 53, §§ 18A-18B).
Contact your city or town clerk for more information on local ballot questions. For a guide to the campaign finance requirements that apply to local ballot questions, see the Office of Campaign and Political Finance’s Municipal Ballot Question Committees guide.