Types of petitions and ballot questions

Learn about different types of petitions and other ballot questions.

There are different types of petitions and ballot questions. Understanding the differences will help you file your initiative petition correctly. For an overview of procedures and deadlines for different types of ballot questions, please see the Secretary of State’s Guide to Statewide Ballot Questions.

Initiative petitions

An initiative petition is a way for people to propose laws and constitutional amendments. Initiative petitions are binding statewide petitions and are voted on in statewide general elections held in even-numbered years.

Referendum petitions

A referendum petition is a way for people to propose repealing a law enacted by the Legislature and are voted on in statewide general elections. Referendum petitions to repeal a law are filed with the Secretary of State’s Office 30 days after the law is enacted.

Non-binding public policy questions

A non-binding public policy question is a question presented to voters only in a specific state senate or representative district. It asks voters to give non-binding instructions to their local state senator or representative.

Local ballot questions (cities and towns)

Local ballot questions for cities and towns in Massachusetts are not reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office.

These questions include:

  • An initiative in a city or town
  • A referendum in a city or town
  • A referendum in a town with a representative town meeting
  • A “Proposition 2 ½” override, which specifies the wording of the various types of questions that can be placed on the ballot
  • The question of whether a city or town should accept the Community Preservation Act
  • Questions about whether to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages in a city or town
  • A nonbinding public opinion advisory question in a city or town

Contact your city or town clerk for more information on local ballot questions. See the Office of Campaign and Political Finance’s Municipal Ballot Question Committees guide for more information on campaign finance requirements for local ballot questions.

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