Want Something on the Ballot?

Is there a law you feel legislators should change but don't know what to do? You can mobilize voters and change it through a ballot initiative.

Through a ballot initiative, ordinary citizens determine the fate of legislation most likely to affect them.

In the United States, when ordinary citizens want something on the ballot, they have the power to do so. They can do this using a ballot initiative. The beauty of a ballot initiative is that the people decide their fate through legislation.

A Little Background on Ballot Initiatives

A ballot initiative is how registered voters collect valid signatures on an initiative petition to place measures on a ballot for a public vote. The procedure for a ballot initiative varies depending on where you live.

Generally, states offer two types of ballot initiatives:

  • Direct: If your proposal qualifies in these states, it directly goes on the ballot. California, Colorado, and Oregon are some of the states that allow direct ballot initiatives. For example, voters in California can submit a ballot proposition (referendum) to change specific laws and procedures. These efforts can even change articles of the state constitution.
  • Indirect: With indirect initiatives, the proposal goes to the legislature first. The legislature has a specific time to act on the proposal. The proposal goes on the ballot if it fails to act within the given time. Maine, Massachusetts, and Ohio are among the states that use this method.

The states that allow citizen-initiated ballot measures include:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • South Dakota
  • Utah *
  • Washington *
  • Wyoming

*Residents in Washington and Utah can choose either method.

The other 24 states don't allow citizen vetoes or initiatives. But many municipalities enable voters to put items on the ballot for local elections.

How Does It Work?

Every state has laws and procedures on ballot initiatives. If you want to bring an issue to the ballot, you must research the specific requirements in your state.

States generally outline these steps for you. They include:

  • File your petition with the state officials.
  • The designated official will review the petition to see if it meets the state's legal requirements.
  • They will prepare the ballot title and summary.
  • You must then get the required number of signatures.
  • Submit the petition to the state official, who will verify the number of signatures you have collected.
  • If the state follows the direct ballot initiative process, it will place your petition on the ballot. If the state pursues an indirect ballot initiative process, it will send your petition to the legislature for consideration.

Check with your state's requirements before taking any action. There are statewide rules you must follow. If you aren't sure what these are, contact the secretary of state or local board of elections.

Examples of Ballot Initiatives

American voters have used ballot initiatives since 1777. Residents of 27 states and the District of Columbia have used ballot initiatives to pass laws that reflect their beliefs and values.

Some of the most recent prominent initiatives include:

Ballot Initiatives: The Challenges

Across the country, many voters are trying to effect change using ballot initiatives. But that doesn't come without challenges. Just because you want the state to pass a new law doesn't mean your proposed law will appear on the statewide ballot.

Simply because you and a thousand other voters want the legislature to repeal a law doesn't mean it will. The process is much more complex than voting in a general election.

Plus, not all states have ballot initiatives. Some states have complex laws and compliance procedures that make it very difficult to pass ballot initiatives, and there is also no guarantee that you'll meet the signature requirements.

Of course, launching a statewide initiative is easier than convincing federal election officials to put something on the ballot.

Thinking of Putting Something on the Ballot? An Attorney Can Help

Contact a voting rights attorney if you need more information on your civic rights or have ballot questions. Your attorney can explain how to address ballot issues and get your proposal on the election ballot.

voting rights attorney can help determine if anyone has violated your civil rights.

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