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A dozen proposed ballot questions pass constitutional test

By STEVE LeBLANCSeptember 4, 2019

BOSTON (AP) — Questions on a range of topics from auto repair to ranked-choice voting to the public funding of abortion passed a key hurdle Wednesday on their way to the Massachusetts ballot.

Attorney General Maura Healey determined 12 of 16 initiative petitions submitted to her office last month have passed constitutional muster.

Two of the questions are proposed constitutional amendments that might not reach the ballot until 2022. The rest could appear next year.

The next daunting step for supporters is to gather the signatures of tens of thousands of Massachusetts voters.

The ranked-choice voting question would apply to future state and federal elections and primaries in Massachusetts. Under the system, voters rank candidates on the ballot, and a candidate garnering a majority of first-place votes is the winner. If no one gets a majority, last-place candidates are eliminated, and votes are reallocated until there’s a majority winner.

Maine became the first U.S. state to use the system in primary elections last year.

A group known as the Right to Repair coalition filed the auto repair ballot question.

It calls for updating a state law requiring car manufacturers share diagnostic and repair information with vehicle owners and independent repair shops. Voters overwhelmingly approved that law in 2012 after an expensive ballot campaign. The coalition says it needs to be revised to close loopholes.

Opponents say the changes would make personal driving data available to third parties with no safeguards to protect a driver’s private information.

The abortion question is a proposed change to the Massachusetts Constitution that would permit the state to exclude abortion services from state-funded health care.

Another proposed amendment would remove the existing prohibition against voting by people incarcerated because of a felony conviction.

Other questions that passed constitutional muster would provide funding for residents of nursing homes, place sharper limits on political contributions from individuals and political action committees from outside the state, and help prevent Massachusetts from becoming a “sanctuary state” — or an area that generally limits cooperation with federal immigration enforcement activities.

Another question would require gun owners to secure their weapons in a certified gun safe.

Healey, a Democrat, says her review is based solely on whether the questions are constitutional.

The state constitution bars questions for a number of reasons, including if they relate to religion, the powers of the court, the tenure of judges, the specific appropriation of state funds or if they infringe on constitutional rights.

One question disqualified by Healey would require the use of fishing gear meant to protect whales.

The next step for backers is to gather the signatures of at least 80,239 registered voters by Dec. 4. Supporters typically try to collect more as a buffer in case opponents challenge some signatures.

The proposals are then sent to state lawmakers. If they fail to pass the proposals before May 6, 2020, supporters must gather 13,374 additional signatures by July 1, 2020, to force the question onto the November 2020 ballot.

Proposed constitutional amendments face a difference path.

They must first win the approval of at least 25% of two joint sessions of the state Legislature before going to voters. The earliest the two submitted this year could appear is on the November 2022 ballot.

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