The deadline for the first step to place a measure on the November 2016 ballot is fast approaching. Proposed initiative petitions must be submitted to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (AGO) on or before Wednesday, August 5, 2015. The AGO will rule on or before Wednesday, September 2, 2015 whether proposed measures meet constitutional requirements. In addition, the AGO will prepare a fair, concise summary of each measure that is certified on that same date.
The Attorney General’s own policy views play no role in the AGO’s certification decision. Rather, the AGO considers whether the petition meets the requirements of Amendment Article 48. Generally, the AGO review focuses on whether the initiative deals with subjects that are related and that are not excluded from the popular initiative by Amendment Article 48.
The process that the AGO uses to review initiative petitions moves swiftly and proponents and opponents of petitions need to take action in August when many are on vacation to be part of the process. There are a few things to keep in mind about the process that the AGO uses to review initiative petitions:
- Before August 5, proponents can submit their draft petitions on an informal, non-binding basis to the AGO for review. Drafters of petitions should take advantage of this opportunity and should submit draft petitions as soon as possible.
- On or before August 5, proponents needs to submit a petition signed by at least 10 voters with the proposed law. Proponents should gather more than 10 signatures and must submit with the petition a certificate of voter registration from the board of registrars or election commission in the city or town in which a signer is registered to vote.
- Both proponents and opponents to proposed initiatives are given a significant opportunity to participate in the process. The AGO requests memorandum of law by Friday, August 14 setting forth the reasons why the AGO should or should not certify the measure. By that same day, the AGO also requests proposed summaries of the initiative petition. In response to the memorandum of law, the AGO will often send follow up questions to proponents and opponents for further information. Later in August, the AGO will provide proponents and opponents with the opportunity to comment upon a draft summary of the initiative petition prepared by the AGO.
- If the AGO decides to not certify a petition, the proponent of that petition is given an opportunity to challenge the AGO decision immediately before the Supreme Judicial Court. The AGO will generally facilitate the filing and agree to the relevant facts so the SJC may make a speedy decision. Challenges to certified decisions are generally not filed until the proponents have gathered enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot.