Amherst League of Women Voters

A Voice for Citizens, a Force for Change

Consensus Question 11

Question 11 in the Massachusetts Leagues' study of the Ballot Question Process asks "An initiative petition for a constitutional amendment requires two votes, one in each of two successively elected Legislatures. Should the second vote be eliminated?"

A citizen-initiated constitutional amendment (as opposed to an initiative petition for a law) is placed on the ballot only if the petition wins the support of at least 50 of the 200 legislators (25%, far short of a majority) in joint sessions held by two successively elected Legislatures.

In 2001, the Senate President knew that the proponents of a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexuals had the support of more than 50 legislators. He moved to adjourn the joint meeting of the Legislature intended to consider the petition (called a "Constitutional Convention") without considering the amendment. This motion passed 137 to 53, and the initiative never reached the ballot.

Most states that allow citizen-initiated amendments do have some requirement for legislative action before a petition to amend the state constitution reaches the ballot. Massachusetts' requirements are among the most restrictive. Since 1919, only three citizen-initiated constitutional amendments have made it to the ballot; two of them passed.

Question 11 is on page 13 of the Study Guide.