BOSTON — Plans to implement ranked-choice voting, prevent Massachusetts from declaring itself a "sanctuary state" and require gun owners to store their weapons in safes are among a dozen proposed referendums inching toward the 2020 ballot.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Maura Healey certified a dozen proposed initiatives filed by individuals and groups seeking voter approval for changes in state law.
Ranked choice voting
Among them is a proposal to switch from the state's current, winner-take-all election system to a ranked-choice method in which voters may list candidates by order of preference.
Backers say ranked-choice voting ensures that winning candidates have broad support, while critics say it's confusing and leads to sleepy political campaigns.
"Massachusetts voters want a stronger voice when we cast our ballots, and it’s just common sense to make sure that our elected leaders are supported by a true majority," Mac D’Alessandro, state director of Voter Choice Massachusetts, said in a statement Wednesday. "We’re excited to bring more voice and more choice into our elections by creating this new option for voters."
The proposal has broad support in the Legislature, where at least 80 lawmakers have signed onto a pair of bills to approve the switch for federal, state and local elections.
Secretary of State Bill Galvin, a Democrat who has overseen the state's election system for nearly a quarter-century, has also thrown his support behind the change.
Another proposal cleared for the 2020 ballot by Healey’s office would ask voters to block efforts to curb state and local cooperation with federal immigration agents.
Under the proposal, state and local law enforcement would be authorized to detain people based on requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if an administrative warrant is issued and there is probable cause the individual is "a threat to public safety" and living in the U.S. illegally. Any detention in excess of 12 hours would be subject to judicial review.
State agencies with police powers would be required to adopt written procedures for detaining suspects who are being sought by federal immigration authorities, according to the proposal.
Proponents of the measure, who include Amesbury Mayor Ken Gray and Peabody City Councilor Anne-Manning Martin, oppose so-called "sanctuary" policies and say police should be working with federal authorities instead of blocking criminals from arrest and deportation.
Immigrant rights groups say giving police authority to cooperate with immigration agents makes communities less safe because it dissuades people from reporting crime for fear of deportation.
Healey’s office also certified a proposal to put a question on the November 2022 ballot asking voters to amend the state Constitution overturn a 1981 Supreme Judicial Court ruling that requires the state to fund abortion services. Backers of the proposal, which includes the Massachusetts Family Institute, proposed a similar initiative for the 2020 ballot but fell short of required signatures.
To get on the ballot, that proposal also needs approval from 50 members of the 200-member Legislature, meeting in two successive constitutional conventions.
Healey's office also rejected four ballot initiatives Wednesday, including one to ban commercial fishing nets and gear in state waters to prevent entanglements of whales and turtles. In a letter, the office said the proposal didn’t meet the legal requirements for certification because backers didn't get the 10 required signatures.
Supporters of the ballot questions certified by her office on Wednesday have several additional hurdles to clear in the next 14 months, not least of which is gathering at least 80,239 signatures of registered voters by Dec. 4.
They must also seek legislative approval, but if that fails they must gather another round of signatures to get a spot on the ballot next November.
In the 2018 elections, voters upheld a two-year old law that protects transgender people in public places such as hotels, restaurants, bathrooms and locker rooms; approved a ballot initiative aimed at curbing political spending by outside groups; and rejected a proposal to set staffing levels for nurses.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.