Want to Start a Referendum? End of Summer Deadline Approaching

DeKalb County Clerk John Acardo has come up with an explanation with how referendums get on the ballot, which I thought folks might find of interest:

Board and Citizen Initiated Referenda Items

Ballot questions are an integral component of our electoral process. They are the legal mechanism by which local governments and voters can solicit feedback from the general public regarding important policy decisions facing jurisdictions.

Local Governing Boards and Citizens still have time to place an advisory or binding question on the November 6, 2012 ballot; however the deadline is quickly approaching.

August 30, 2012 is the deadline for local governments to certify to the Election Authority, (commonly the County Clerk), their desire to place an item on the ballot. Similarly, citizen sponsored referenda questions must be presented to the local boards for certification by August 6, 2012.

Units of Local Government

Local Boards, (for example, cities, villages, school boards, etc.), must pass and certify a resolution which seeks input from the electorate regarding a policy decision by this deadline. Questions can be binding or advisory.

Advisory questions are those in which the electorate is asked their opinion on a policy issue.

Binding referenda are those in which the results become permanent. Typically these involve taxing issues facing local units of government.

Once a local board adopts their ballot question resolution, they must deliver it to the Election Authority to ensure it is placed on the ballot prior to their production.

Citizen Sponsored Questions

Similar to local units of government, citizens can also seek to place items on the ballot.

Citizen sponsored referenda items must comply with state statute, so it is strongly encouraged that those initiating this type of question consult with an attorney.

Citizens must collect signatures from the local unit’s electorate – in some cases as high as 10% of those registered voters, in order to satisfy the requirements to place a question on the ballot. (Statutes dictate for each type of question, how much of the electorate one must petition to submit a ballot question).

These questions, once the collection of signatures has been satisfied, must be presented to the local unit of government for adoption and delivery to the Election Authority to place on the ballot.

It is important to note that in most cases State Statute will guide how the question should be worded, and in what context the petition must be presented to the electorate. This is why it is vital to seek guidance from competent legal counsel prior to circulation of these petitions.

Bottom line with citizen initiated questions – seek advice prior to going this route.

Things to note…


  • August 6, 2012 is the last day to file petitions for referenda to local units.
  • August 20, 2012 is the last day for a local government to adopt a resolution or ordinance to allow ballot questions.
  • August 30, 2012 is the last day for a Local Election Official or circuit clerk to certify referenda to the election authority.

Jurisdictions are limited to three ballot questions in each election cycle. There are caveats for additional questions, but they are reserved for extreme circumstances regarding taxing questions.

Some jurisdictions and statutes have different rules for presenting citizen initiated questions – so always be sure to seek legal/administrative counsel before starting the process.

The State Board of Elections typically advises that citizen initiated questions should not be started more than six months before the certification date for the question. This reduces the risk of not having the questions certified. In all cases, the election date on which the question shall appear must also be present on the petition that is being circulated.

Always seek legal advice prior to undertaking these services.


Want to Start a Referendum? End of Summer Deadline Approaching — 1 Comment

  1. So how do we get the issue of no poison fluoride added to our water on the ballot so the folks that drink this stuff can have a voice?

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