Election Reform

An Act to create a citizens’ initiative review commission (HD1052), filed with House Assistant Minority Leader Brad Hill

This past August, as part of the Massachusetts Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR) pilot project, 20 Massachusetts voters spent four days conducting an in-depth deliberation on the marijuana legalization ballot question.  The panel was formed from a random sample of 10,000 Massachusetts voters and balanced to reflect the state’s voting population along demographic lines.  Members of the panel came from every congressional district, from urban areas and small towns.  The oldest member of the panel, at ninety-one, was seventy years older than the youngest.  Some had left school after high school; others had graduate degrees.  They included women and men, racial and ethnic minorities, and Democrats, Republicans, and unenrolled voters in the same proportions as the electorate as a whole.

Over the course of the four days, the citizen panel heard from the campaigns for and against marijuana legalization, questioned independent policy experts, and deliberated amongst themselves.  As a final product, the panel wrote a one-page citizens’ statement summarizing the key facts that voters should understand about the ballot question and the strongest and most credible arguments for and against it.

Subsequent independent evaluation by researchers from Penn State University found that Massachusetts voters considered the citizens’ statement quite helpful in understanding the complicated marijuana legalization question.  In focus groups held among progressive, moderate, and conservative voters across the state, clear support emerged for making CIR a regular feature of the election system in Massachusetts.  In addition, many of the members of the citizen panel described their participation in the pilot project as their most meaningful experience in politics; some even expressed that it had restored their faith in the political process.

This legislation would institutionalize the CIR system in Massachusetts.  Under HD1052, a citizen panel, representative of the overall electorate, would examine at least one statewide ballot question per election and produce a citizens’ statement to be included in the voter guide.

To learn more about the CIR system, the pilot project, and the Penn State evaluation, please go to cirmass2016.org.

An Act to promote transparency in municipal ballot questions (HD2659)

Under current law, if a state ballot question committee receives and deposits a donation of over $500 dollars within 18 days of the election, it must report that donation within 72 hours. This legislation would extend that reporting requirement to municipal ballot question committees.