By Bob Katzen

Backers of four ballot questions that still have a chance to make it on the November 2020 ballot got a break last week when Supreme Judicial Court Justice Barbara Lenk ruled that the groups will be allowed to collect the 13,347 additional signatures they need electronically by online means as well as in person.

Proponents of the ballot question will be allowed to post and distribute online the PDF version of both sides of the form that a voter must sign. The organizers have said for weeks that COVID-19 and social distancing will unfairly result in fewer volunteers going out on the street to gather signatures and fewer people willing to sign.

“Either [they] risk their health and the health of voters to satisfy unjustifiable and unachievable ballot restrictions and participate in democracy or protect their health and give up their fundamental right to access the ballot,” the proponents argued to the court.

Proponents filed an emergency petition with the court last week seeking assistance. At the time, they said they had been engaged in talks about relief with Secretary of State Bill Galvin but that the time-sensitive nature of the problem warranted immediate action from the court. The court sided with the proponents.

The court’s ruling was not a surprise since only a few weeks ago, it gave candidates a break and ruled that the number of required signatures for all elected offices in the September 1 primary be reduced by 50 percent because of the difficulty and health risks of collecting signatures during the COVID-19 pandemic. That means that the number of signatures needed for U.S. Senate candidates has been reduced from 10,000 to 5,000; Congressional candidates from 2,000 to 1,000; Governor’s Council and some county offices from 1,000 to 500; candidates for the State Senate from 300 to 150; and candidates for State Representative from 150 to 75.

There are two ways that a voter who wants to place the question on the November 2020 ballot can sign the petition. The first way would be to print out the form and sign it by hand, then mail or e-mail it back to the campaign. The other option to avoid printing out the form is to apply an electronic signature directly to the form and e-mail it back to the campaign.

The four proposals would authorize ranked-choice or instant runoff voting in elections; allow all grocery stores to sell beer and wine; require that motor vehicle owners and independent repair facilities be provided by auto manufacturers with expanded access to mechanical data related to vehicle maintenance and repair; and change the way the state funds nursing homes.

Months ago, backers had gathered the 80,239 signatures to put the measures before the Legislature which has until May 5 to act on the proposals but is unlikely to do so. If their proposal is not approved, supporters must collect an additional 13,374 certified signatures to send to local election officials by June 17 and to Secretary of State Bill Galvin’s office by July 1, 2020 to place their question on Nov. 3, 2020 ballot.

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