Amherst League of Women Voters

A Voice for Citizens, a Force for Change

January 12, 2019
In This Issue:

January 13, 3-6 p.m., Franklin County LWV's Consensus Meeting, 170 Main St, Greenfield. All League members are welcome to attend and participate.
January 14 , 6 p.m., rebroadcast of LWVA's Byline with Stan Rosenberg, with District Councillor Cathy Schoen. A new weekly show on Amherst Media, presented by LWV Amherst. Host Stan Rosenberg will interview players in both town and state government affairs. The program premieres a new guest every Friday at 8  p.m.; it is repeated on Mondays at 6 p.m.. on local Channel 17. 
January 17, 10 a.m.- 2 p.m., LWVMA Sexual Health Lobby Day, Great Hall, State House.
January 19, noon. The Pioneer Valley Women's Wave Sister March, Northampton. March from Sheldon Field to City Hall. 1-3 p.m., Activist Fair in First Churches. 
  Needed: LWV marchers (who wants to help carry the banner?) and tablers for LWV table at Fair. Contact Barbara Pearson. For more info, click here.    
January 21, 2:30 p.m. Book Discussion of Rachel Kaddish's The Weight of Ink, at Applewood.
January 24, 2-4 p.m. LWVA Consensus Meeting on Ballot Question Process Study, Craft Room, Applewood. (Snow date, Jan 29, same time and place.)
January 25, LWV Amherst DUES due
January 26, 10 a.m.-noon, LWVA Consensus Meeting on Ballot Question Process Study, Woodbury Room, Jones Library. (Snow date, Feb 2, 10-12 in Amherst Police Station Room.)
January 29, 1-3:00 p.m., Special Steering Committee Meeting, 197 Pondview Dr. All members are welcome, but please contact the host.
January 29, 7 p.m., LWVMA Webinar on the Legislative Process. Sign up here. More info in January e-bulletin.
February 2, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m., Northampton and Springfield LWV's Consensus Meeting, Florence Civic Center. All League members welcome to attend and participate.
February 4 , 1-3 p.m., Steering Committee Meeting, 11 Western Lane. All members are welcome, but please contact the host.
February 6, 4 p.m. LWVMA webinar: Recent reports on Climate Change with Prof. Michael Oppenheimer, participant in UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Registration here.
February 9, 12:30-2 p.m., LWV Amherst's annual Birthday Lunch, Ginger Garden Restaurant: Save the Date!
March 21,  4:00- 6:00 p.m, Amherst LWV 80th Birthday Open House, Amherst Women's Club . Save the Date!
June 7-8, LWVMA State Convention, Westford Regency Inn, right off 495 in Westford. Save the Date!

Special Note:
Membership dues for 2019  must be received by January 25 to continue your active membership in LWV Amherst.

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 Introduction to the Ballot Question Process Study

 Massachusetts's citizens are able to practice democracy in ways not open to many other American citizens. Since 1919, we have been able to propose new laws; repeal existing laws; propose amendments to the state constitution. Massachusetts is one of the few Eastern states to provide its citizens all three kinds of ballot questions.  
Could the process in Massachusetts be improved? In 2017, the State League decided it was time to study the ballot question process. From the results of local Leagues' consensus meetings (Amherst's on January 24 and 26), LWVMA will develop a position to be voted on at Convention 2019. LWVMA can then propose steps to enact any recommended changes.
The Ballot Question Process Study contains fifteen questions, organized in six sections. Although ideally each Consensus Meeting will cover all fifteen questions, that may not be possible. The meeting on Thursday, January 24 (from 2-4 p.m., in the Crafts Room of Applewood, 1 Spencer Drive) will aim to cover the first two sections (questions 1-8) the fourth section, on the roles of the Legislature, and the last section, the most general question. The meeting on January 26 (from 10-12 a.m., in the Woodbury Room of the Jones Library) will focus on the third through sixth sections. The questions likely to stir the most discussion will be raised at both meetings.

If you wish to weigh in on all fifteen questions and can't attend both meetings, consider attending the Consensus meeting of a neighboring League. Members of the LWV can attend and participate in any League's consensus meeting.  Franklin County is having its meeting on Sunday, January 13,from 3-6 p.m. at 170 Main St., Greenfield; Northampton and Springfield will be meeting Saturday, February 2 from 10 am to 2 p.m. in the Florence Civic Center.

Researched and written by LWVMA's Ballot Question Process Study Committee, the Study Report (with the background) and the Study Guide (with the questions) are available here
  1.      Understanding the Ballot Questions
Should the League suggest ways to present better the information in the red booklet, The Secretary of the Commonwealth (SOC)'s "Information for Voters"?
Question 1

Can the ballot question summaries be easier to understand?
Question 1 asks about the readability level of the summaries (written by the Attorney General's office) which appear in the "Information" booklet, on the signature forms, and on the ballots themselves. Studies using a widely-used measure of level of education required indicate that the mean readability level for Massachusetts between 1997 and 2007 was (grade) 14, while question 1 (Patient-to-Nurse Limits) in 2018 had a readability level of 19, the equivalent of graduate-level work (!)
Text of Question 1: "Should additional efforts be made to ensure petition summaries are written for the greatest understanding by voters?" [The ballot questions are technically citizen initiated petitions.]
Question 2 a and b

 Information about the fiscal consequences of the ballot questions is a recent addition to the information provided to voters. Should the regulation be changed to allow more information and make the information available in more than one place?
Statements of fiscal impact (prepared by the Executive Office of Administration and Finance) were added to the "Information for Voters" only in 2016, after Massachusetts General Law (M.G.I.) 54 ยง 53 was amended in 2014. The statement can contain no more than 100 words; it is made available only in "Information for Voters." It has been suggested that more information, available in more places, would better inform the voter.
Text of Question 2a: "Do the statements of fiscal consequences in the "Information for Voters" red booklet from 2016 and 2018 provide voters with the information they need to make an informed decision on the potential fiscal impact of passing the ballot question(s)?"

Text of Question 2b: "Should voter information beyond the 100-word statement of fiscal consequences in the "Information for Voters" red booklet be available, such as through public meetings, webinars, telephone call-ins, webinars, etc.?"
Question 3

The State does not guarantee the accuracy of the arguments for and against a question, which are prepared by the primary proponents and opponents of a question. Would it be preferable to use an impartial source instead?
One possible alternative is described here: In 2016 and 2018, the State had pilot projects, using a Citizens Initiative Review (CIR) to study one question and prepare arguments. CIRs are in use in Oregon, and two other states have run pilot projects. A bill has been introduced to the Legislature to adopt these for Massachusetts. Several members of the LWVMA Board observed the CIR. In a CIR, a group of citizens representative of the state's demographics hear from proponents and opponents as well as experts on varying sides of the question. Then after deliberation. the CIR panel lists the main facts of the question and then the best reasons to vote for and against it.
For further information about the Review, click here.

Text of Question 3: "Should the arguments in favor and against in the "Information for Voters" red booklet be prepared by an independent source such as a citizen group appointed for that purpose rather than, or in addition to, the proponents and opponents identified by the Secretary of the Commonwealth?"
Question 4

Is there such a thing as the full text of a ballot question which is too long?

In 2016, the full texts, which appear only in "Information for Voters" ranged from 1/3 of a page to 11 pages. There are two conflicting goals here: a length of text which will not discourage a voter from reading it, and a length of text which will permit the proponents to express their ideas completely. Note that the State Study Committee could not find a state which limits the length of the full text of the proposed law.
Text of Question 4: "Should there be a limit to the length (e.g., number of words or number of pages) of the full text of a proposed law for an initiative petition (and eventual ballot question.)
Question 5
Today's voters turn to many different sources, often digital, for information. Yet the Secretary of the Commonwealth is required by the 1919 amendment to the Constitution only to publish and distribute by mail to voters the "Information for Voters" red booklet.
Most states print and distribute the information in newspapers and/or post a copy of the printed document on a state website. (Massachusetts posts a pdf of the document online.)

Text of Question 5: "Should the Secretary of the Commonwealth periodically review and update the means of disseminating and publicizing the "Information for Voters" red booklet?

Section II: The Signatures

The regulations regarding signatures on petitions for citizens' initiatives, which all date from Amendment XLVIII of 1918, deserve consideration to see whether they might be altered to better fit the circumstances of the 21st century.
Question 6 a and b 
What does the State want to accomplish in its requirement for geographical distribution of signatures? Does the current distribution accomplish that goal?
Many states require signatures from throughout the state, requiring a minimum per cent from each of the State's designated regions, usually either legislative or Congressional districts. That way the whole state is expressing its support. Massachusetts requires that no more than 25% of the signatures can come from any one county, which prevents a handful of states from pushing their interests onto the ballot.  
There are two issues here: whether to change to districts that are more equal in population size, and whether to set a minimum rather than a maximum percent of signatures.
Map of Counties   
Text of Question 6a: "Should that limitation be modified to reflect population variation while still ensuring geographical dispersion of signatures?"  
Population of Counties 
Text of 6a: "Should that limitation be eliminated?"
Question 7

In Massachusetts, a stray mark (doodle, pen trial, underlining, etc.) usually leads to the disqualification of all the signatures on the page. No other state has such a regulation.
Text of Question 7: Should every identifiable, unique signature on a petition be counted toward the required total, rather than rejecting for example, all signatures on a page because of one error or stray mark?
Question 8

Massachusetts is one of three states which require a second round of signature-collection if the Legislature does not act on a petition after it has been filed.
The initial round of signatures requires the equivalent of 3% of the voters in the previous gubernatorial election (64,750 signatures in 2018-with the geographical limitation described in question 6.) The second round requires additional, new signatures (.5%, one half of one percent, of the voters in the previous gubernatorial election). Is this necessary?  
This rule applies to both initiatives and referenda but not to constitutional amendments, which have a more complex procedure, having to be supported by the legislature in two consecutive sessions.
Text of Question 8: "In a petition for law, a second round of signatures must be collected after the legislature has had time to act. Only signatures from registered voters who did not sign the first round can be counted. Should this second round be eliminated?"
      Section IV: Legislative Involvement and Responsibilities

The citizen-initiated laws, referenda (repealing existing laws) and constitutional amendments, found in about one half of the states, are either "direct", when the legislature plays no part, or indirect, when the legislature plays a part. Massachusetts has an indirect process for both laws and constitutional amendments.
  Question 11

An article in Ballotpedia notes that in Massachusetts (as in Illinois and Mississippi) "the requirements for placing a constitutional amendment before the people through an initiative process are so prohibitively difficult that the process has rarely or never been used."

Since 1919, three constitutional amendments have been placed on the ballot by citizen initiative; two of them were approved. In that period, the Legislature has placed 63 constitutional amendments on the ballot; 53 were approved.  
Getting a question before the voter follows the same steps as the initiative until after the petition, with required signatures, has been filed with the legislature. At that point, the procedure changes, because the proposed constitutional amendment must be approved by 25% of the senators and 25% of the representatives in a joint session of the Legislature in two immediately successive sessions. Without that approval, the question can not go to the voters.  
Mississippi is the only other state which requires legislative approval of a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment.
Text of Question 11: "An initiative petition for a constitutional amendment requires two votes, one in each of two successively elected Legislatures. Should the second vote be eliminated?"

Question 12

There is no limitation on the legislature's ability to amend or overturn a citizen-initiated law or reinstate a repealed law approved by a vote of the people. Recent history provides examples: the repeal of the "Clean Elections" initiative; the repeal of the referendum which repealed the law setting the state personal income rate on Part B taxable income at 5.95%; the amendment of the recreational marijuana law.
Ten other states also have no restrictions on the state legislature's ability to amend or repeal initiated statutes. Four states have restrictions on how soon this can happen (ranging from 2-7 years). Six states have restrictions on how large a majority legislative vote is required for these actions. Only California and Arizona require voter approval for repeal or amending of citizen-initiated state statue.
Text of Question 12: "Should there be a period during which the legislature is not allowed to change a citizen-initiated law passed or repealed by ballot question?

Section VI: The Initiative and Referendum Process in Massachusetts
In 1919, Massachusetts amended its Constitution to provide its citizens with the opportunity to initiate laws, referenda (which repeal existing law) and constitutional amendments.
 Question 15
The 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.

Through November 2018, Massachusetts citizens have voted on 106 citizen-initiated ballot measures, of which 50 were approved by voters.

Those who prefer a strictly representative government point to the deliberation, debate, and compromise which is provided by law-making in a legislative body. Unhappy voters' recourse is to elect different legislators. Moreover, Massachusetts has the "right of free petition" which means any voter may file a proposed piece of legislation through his or her senator or representative.

Text of Question 15: "Should the current initiative and Referendum Process by which the citizens can do the following (A-C) be retained?
  1. Initiate laws
  2. Initiate constitutional amendments
  3. Repeal laws through referendum"

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