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Massachusetts General Law chapter 56, section 42 reads:

“No person shall make or publish, or cause to be made or published, any false statement in relation to any candidate for nomination or election to public office, which is designed or tends to aid or to injure or defeat such candidate.

No person shall publish or cause to be published in any letter, circular, advertisement, poster or in any other writing any false statement in relation to any question submitted to the voters, which statement is designed to affect the vote on said question.

Whoever knowingly violates any provision of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars or by imprisonment for not more than six months.”

The law dates back to a statute of 1926; the second paragraph was added in 1964.

On August 6, 2015, in the case Commonwealth v. Lucas, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts unanimously ruled that the statute was unconstitutional.  The court held that the law was an unreasonable restraint on the freedom of speech, was not written so as to limit only speech that fits the definitions of fraud or defamation, and “chills the very exchange of ideas that gives meaning to our electoral system.”

For more on law about elections in general, see our Law About Elections and Voting.

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