Amherst League of Women Voters

A Voice for Citizens, a Force for Change

Consensus Question 15

The final three-part question of the Massachusetts Leagues' study of the Ballot Question Process asks "Should the current initiative and Referendum Process by which the citizens can do the following be retained?

  1. Initiate laws
  2. Initiate constitutional amendments
  3. Repeal laws through referendum"

The 1919 decision to provide these rights came only after lengthy and contentious debate. Those in favor of Amendment XLVIII were motivated by various views: they distrusted government, sought to improve it, were frustrated by its inaction, or believed it was not serving the will of the people.

Those opposed sought to continue the government devised by John Adams and his fellow legislators, believing that a strictly representative government was superior to one with elements of a direct democracy. The framers of the Massachusetts had doubted the intellectual ability and the freedom from influence of the ordinary man. The same views had provided such other components of government as senators elected to Congress by state legislatures, and the electoral college.

A 2002 article in Commonwealth Magazine by John McDonough, written in observation of the 85th anniversary of Article XLVIII, reviews the use of these processes in Massachusetts. He covers the spectrum of views, from those who oppose the whole idea to those who feel that Massachusetts' processes are too restrictive. He concludes that the initiative process, while imperfect, has given citizens a voice on important controversies and compelled action when the Legislature preferred not to take any.

Information on Consensus Question 15 is found on pp. 17-18 of the Study Guide. Section 5 of the Study Report compares the processes in Massachusetts with those in other states.