Direct democracy in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has several forms of direct democracy, allowing for initiative and referendums at the state level and in many municipalities. The recall of public officials is also provided for in many municipalities.


The progressive movement started discussions about adopting direct democracy across the United States, and Massachusetts developed a local branch. The state branch of the Populist Party adopted the statewide initiative and referendum in its 1895 platform. State representative Henry Stirling proposed some of the first legislation for direct democracy in 1900. It was eventually enacted in 1917 at the state constitutional convention.[1]

State governmentEdit


The state allows an indirect form of initiative for laws and constitutional amendments, and the state is considered one of the most restrictive of the states that allow initiatives.

Excluded subjectsEdit

Initiatives must be confined to one subject and cannot relate to judges and courts, relate only to specific municipalities of the state, relate to religion, make specific appropriations of money, or restrict the Declaration of Rights in the state constitution.[2] The Office of the Attorney General of Massachusetts may do an informal review to ensure it passes these requirements.

Free petitionEdit

Massachusetts has a unique form of direct democracy in the free petition. This allows any citizen or group of the commonwealth to petition the government by submitting a bill to the General Court, which are treated as equivalent to a bill submitted by a representative.[3][4] The bill must be considered by the legislature and are submitted to a committee for discussion, and may be voted on like any other piece of legislation.[5] In practice this form of direct democracy is rarely successful in enacted new laws. In the 2015-2016 session there were at least 177 bills filed by citizens in the state, with only four leaving committee for a floor vote and none being enacted.[6] Massachusetts is the only state in the country to allow citizens to file bills directly into the legislature.

Advisory questionsEdit

The General Court may put a non binding public policy question on the ballot, and constituents may also hold a nonbinding vote to instruct a representative in the legislature how they should vote on laws. The General Court may also put amendments to the US constitution on the ballot, but they are only advisory

Lists of ballot measuresEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Massachusetts › Initiative & Referendum Institute". Retrieved 2020-07-06.
  2. ^ Massachusetts. Elections Division (1989). State ballot question petitions. UMass Amherst Libraries.
  3. ^ "The Legislative Process". Retrieved 2020-07-06.
  4. ^ Staff, State Library (2016-07-18). "State Library of Massachusetts: Massachusetts Citizens' Right to Free Petition". State Library of Massachusetts. Retrieved 2020-07-06.
  5. ^ Bresler, Kenneth; Massachusetts. Office of the Secretary of State (1995). Citizen's guide to drafting legislation : a manual. UMass Amherst Libraries.
  6. ^ ""THERE OUGHTA BE A LAW"-Massachusetts Offers Citizens the "Right of Free Petition" | The Somerville News Weekly". Retrieved 2020-06-29.

Further readingEdit