The document below was provided to the library by the Massachusetts Elections Division concerning the solicitation of signatures at locations that includes public libraries. Ballot-access and nomination paper signature solicitation are permitted provided there is no interference with patrons, staff, or normal library operations.
Both the United States and Massachusetts Constitutions protect the right to solicit signatures on nomination papers and ballot question petitions in a reasonable and unobtrusive manner in open public areas. This includes the public areas of municipal property as well as the common areas of privately owned shopping centers. Distribution of printed material in connection with signature solicitation is also protected. The right of signature solicitation (along with other free-speech activities) on municipal sidewalks, in parks and in similar open public areas is clear. Hague v. CIO. 307 U.S. 496, 515-16 (1939).
Public Areas of Privately Owned Shopping Centers:
The state Supreme Judicial Court has provided guidance specifically to those persons gathering signatures in privately owned shopping centers. Batchelder v. Allied Stores International, Inc., 388 Mass. 83, 445 N.E.2d 590 (1983). Although the Batchelder Court ruling was limited to gathering signatures on candidates’ nomination papers, this standard also applies to gathering signatures on initiative and referendum petitions, under the Massachusetts Constitution. Mass. Const, amend art. 48. Shopping centers may adopt reasonable regulations that require signature gatherers to identify themselves, prevent them from harassing customers and obstructing pedestrian traffic, and allocate space and times among different groups of petitioners. It is therefore suggested that solicitors contact the management company of a privately owned shopping center to arrange for a mutually convenient time for such activity.
In Batchelder the Supreme Judicial Court held that Article 9 of the Massachusetts Constitution protects the right to solicit signatures, and to distribute related printed material, in the common areas of privately owned shopping centers, subject to reasonable regulations. At least the same amount of protection must apply on municipal property that is regularly open to the general public for municipal business. Therefore, ballot-access and nomination paper signature solicitation must be allowed on municipal property that is regularly open to the general public for municipal business, subject only to reasonable time, place and manner regulations.
Please do not hesitate to contact Michelle K. Tassinari, Legal Counsel, at 617.727.2828 or 1.800.462.VOTE for more information on the right of individuals to gather signatures in public places.