Massachusetts voters may have the opportunity to weigh in next year on the gig economy, voter ID requirements, and the way history is taught in schools.
Ballot questions on those topics were some of the 28 filed ahead of a Wednesday deadline to get on the 2022 ballot. It’s just the first step in a lengthy, expensive process. In 2019, 13 ballot questions were filed by the August deadline, but only two initiative petitions actually appeared before voters on the 2020 ballot.
Among the measures proposed this year: An initiative measure backed by tech giants Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart that would allow them to continue classifying app-based workers as independent contractors, not employees, while granting the workers some new benefits. If it makes it onto the ballot, it would make Massachusetts the next front in a nationally watched battle over the status of workers in the gig economy. Last year, a similar fight over California’s Proposition 22 became the state’s most expensive ballot measure ever.
Opponents of the ballot measure, many of whom have united behind a labor coalition, say the benefits it offers are paltry compared to what the workers would be entitled to as full employees under state law. Attorney General Maura Healey is suing Uber and Lyft, arguing they are breaking state law by classifying workers as independent contractors, not employees.
Both sides, pointing to separate surveys, claim they have the majority support of drivers and deliverers who work on the apps.
The Massachusetts Republican Party is also pushing several questions on the ballot, including one the party claims would test opposition to the much-politicized doctrine of critical race theory, though the language of the petition itself does not include the words “critical race theory.” The measure would prevent educators from teaching “with the specific intent of making any such students feel personally responsible, at fault or liable, either individually or as a member of a racial or ethnic group, for the actions or omissions of others.”
Critical race theory is an academic doctrine built on the idea that modern law and other institutions were shaped by historical patterns of racism that continue to disadvantage people of color and Black people in particular. Critics on the right have attempted to paint the theory with a broad brush, claiming it accuses all white Americans of racism and attempts to make students feel guilty for historical events they played no role in. A number of red states have passed laws banning those teachings, limiting how educators can talk about the country’s troubled racial history.
The GOP is also pushing more than one measure to require voter identification and another filed to “to preserve the lives of children born alive.” That measure would require that “if a child is born alive, all reasonable steps, in keeping with good medical practice, shall be taken to preserve the life of the child born alive.” In a press release announcing the initiative, GOP Chairman Jim Lyons characterized it as a proactive effort and “the humane thing to do.”
The two proposed voter ID measures differ slightly, but both would require voters to show a government-issued form of identification before casting a ballot. Tatyana Semyrog, a former Republican candidate for the state House who filed one such proposal, said it protects against the “potential of voter fraud.” Experts say there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
The Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union slammed both the voter ID requirements and the “born alive” proposal. Executive Director Carol Rose said “the ACLU has long opposed using the ballot initiative process to violate people’s civil rights and civil liberties.”
Getting a measure on the ballot is a long, protracted process. Initiatives were due Aug. 4. If the attorney general’s office determines that they meet constitutional requirements, proponents have until mid-November to collect 80,239 signatures and file petitions with the secretary of state’s office. If enough signatures are collected, the measures are sent to the Legislature in January. Then, if the Legislature doesn’t take action on the petitions, proponents must collect 13,374 more signatures next year before the measure can be placed on the ballot.
And even for questions that meet all the requirements, there’s always the possibility of litigation that could strike them before voters have their say.
Other petitions filed would ban smoking in multi-living units, permit happy hours, effectively block Massachusetts from participating in a regional carbon emission reduction program, target hospital transparency, and aim to redistribute earnings from well-off hospitals to those at risk of needing to cut service. Several hospital-related initiatives were proposed by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which in 2018 lost at the ballot box with a measure that would have set strict limits on the numbers of patients assigned to hospital nurses.
Package stores are proposing a ballot question to increase the number of licenses available to food stores while leaving a cap in place, language the head of the Massachusetts Package Store Association described as an “olive branch” compromise with food and convenience stores that favor an unlimited number of licenses.
Also expected to be on next fall’s ballot: a constitutional amendment that would enact a sweeping change to the state’s tax code by imposing a 4 percent surtax on annual personal income above $1 million. That measure cleared its last procedural hurdle before the 2022 ballot in June, when overwhelming majorities in the Democratic-dominated Legislature backed it.
Two proposals were also filed by Wednesday’s deadline proposing constitutional amendments that could appear on the 2024 ballot. They center on conflict of interest disclosures among public officials and no-excuse absentee voting.