Amherst League of Women Voters

A Voice for Citizens, a Force for Change

Consensus Question 6

Question 6 in the Massachusetts Leagues' study of the Ballot Question Process reads: "Currently there is a limitation on the number of signatures that can be certified from any one county. Should that limitation be modified to reflect population variation while still ensuring geographic dispersion of signatures? Should that limitation be eliminated?"

These questions refer to the current requirement that not more than one-fourth of the certified signatures on any petition shall be those of registered voters of any one county. 6A asks whether the limit should be modified and 6B should it be eliminated. This requirement is an attempt to ensure that no single geographic region or county dominates the signatures collected. If this requirement was lifted, any one of the 11 largest counties could conceivably collect all of the required signatures, and thereby control the inclusion of a petition.

In the 26 states that feature the powers of initiative, veto referendum, or both, 16 have a distribution requirement, while 10 of them do not. Of the 16, in some, including Massachusetts, the distribution requirement is spread over the state while in others it is based on legislative districts. Most states set a minimum number from each region, but Massachusetts sets a maximum.

The 14 counties in Massachusetts range in number of registered voters from 1 million in Middlesex County to 9,000 in Nantucket County. The 25% required could be all the voters in Nantucket County or a small percentage of a large one like Middlesex. When the votes are counted for the ballot questions there is no regional requirement, so why should the signatures be restricted?

It has been suggested that, if Massachusetts maintains a geographic requirement, it should be based on the more equitable legislative or congressional districts rather than county.

Information on Consensus Question 6 is found on p. 8 of the Study Guide.