Category Archives: referendum

An Easy Fix?

Tacoma, WA

Alex Hays recently submitted signatures for a ballot measure which will change the city government. The ballot measure proposes a strong mayor form of government. But he made a mistake.

But there was one mistake. In an effort to redraft the city charter, there was mix up and Hays accidentally removed a section of the charter that gives people the power to create initiatives and referendums. If passed, this initiative would take that power away from people in Tacoma.

“We reacted to the city’s request that we put together a different version. They wanted the entire charter reproduced. That made it a little harder to get right and unfortunately that created a chance for this mistake to occur,” said Hays.

Now the city is claiming nothing can be done.

Citizens signed this petition and the measure should appear as signed by citizens. However, if the city council sincerely wants to retain the initiative and referendum portion of the charter (and offer that choice to voters,) they can craft a ballot question that will do the same changes as the petition submitted by Hays, but include the initiative section of the charter. Then the ballot title should make clear what each charter amendment includes:

  • Strong mayor, tighter term limits, and no initiative and referendum.
  • Strong mayor, tighter term limits, and keep initiative and referendum.

The issue getting the highest number of votes would be approved, unless neither ballot question gets over 50% and no changes would be made. I hope the city council acts quickly to ensure voters have this option.


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Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, Initiative, Petition Drive, politicians, referendum, Term limits

Two Years Later Wyoming Supreme Court Rules For Petitioners

The Casper clerk rejected signatures that should have counted.

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Gaining The Initiative

Citizens in Sammamish, WA are expected to gain the ability to initiate legislation this fall.

Earlier this year activists circulated petitions to call for an advisory vote to gauge local support of the initiative process. Voters approved the advisory measure 55% to 45%.

The Sammamish City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to move forward with a resolution that states its intent to adopt citizen-enacted initiative and referendum powers, with Deputy Mayor Kathy Huckabay and Councilmember Tom Odell voting against.

The limited powers allow residents to create or repeal laws within the city by way of petition. The council decided to put the matter up to the public in the April special election. That nonbinding advisory vote passed with 55 percent approval with a 24 percent voter turnout.

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Tax Cap In Ocean City Maryland

The city attorney in Ocean City does not think citizens are allowed to petition for a tax cap. He’s basing his opinion on a tax rollback restriction. However, it is unlikely the court will decide until the city confirms enough petition signatures were submitted.

According to Charter Amendment Procedures for Maryland Municipalities, “the residents of an incorporated city or town may initiate an amendment to a municipal charter by gathering the signatures of at least 20 percent of qualified municipal voters on a petition in the same fashion that a charter amendment approved by a municipal governing body may be petitioned to referendum.”

Once the appropriate number of signatures is verified, the Town of Ocean City will be required to conduct the referendum within 90 days or at the next scheduled election, which is in November of 2016.

“I suspect that there may be some litigation over this petition, and the court is not going to reach a determination if the petition has not been verified with the requisite number of signatures,” Ayres said. “The issue is with the substance of the petition. In my opinion, the substance of the petition violates Section 6-303 of the Tax Property Article of the Maryland Code Annotated. The substance of the petition would amend the charter, so your ability to tax would be capped at the 2009 level of taxes, and that is known as a ‘tax rollback.’ In the case of Board of Election Supervisors vs. Smallwood … the court had ruled tax rollbacks are not proper charter material and violate Section 6-303.”

The Mayor and City Council voted unanimously to request the Board of Elections verify the number of signatures on the petition.


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Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, Initiative, Petition Drive, politicians, referendum

Reform Or Restriction

Disclosure of funding, should petitions require a higher standard than candidates? One San Diego city council member thinks they should.

At a special session of the City Council, meeting as a “committee of the whole,” Gloria will propose a package of regulations that require that petition advertisements identify the top two donors contributing to the drive; impose tighter deadlines for publicly reporting petition campaign contributions and expenses; and revamp the rules on how petitions are formatted

It’s easy for legislators to propose new regulations like these for petitions, they don’t bear the costs. New formatting rules will mean paying attorneys more to draft petitions. These types of regulations are always added to protect us from big money special interests, but they result in making the process more difficult and sometimes impossible for volunteers and small money drives. Big money special interests can pay for lobbyists, they can pay for attorneys to wade through the regulations. Volunteers and grassroots will be the ones tripped up by this law, they don’t have funding to pay CPAs and attorneys to prepare campaign finance reports or spend hours designing new petition templates.

It’s also a bit hypocritical, does councilman Todd Gloria put the names of his two biggest campaign donor on each piece of legislation he proposes? That’s a reform people might want to see.

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Colorado Legislators Show Contempt For Citizens

Colorado legislators finally ended their session and went home, but not before weakening voters petition rights.

HB15-1057 creates petty new hurdles for initiatives.

In Colorado the politicians love making the initiative harder. Initiatives must have two sponsors. There are multiple review and comment hearings where the public can complain about the petition and changes can be demanded. Each time a change occurs a new comment hearing must be held. This process takes months. A representative of the sponsors had been required to attend each of these review hearings. If they didn’t attend it started the entire process over. This can be tedious considering a sponsor from Cortez would need to drive over 7 hours to be in Denver for the hearing. But they could have a representative in Denver attend in their place. Not anymore!

How petty can legislators be? They now require both sponsors to attend every hearing, and if one of the sponsors is unable to attend for any reason, the initiative is withdrawn and the process must be restarted.

From the bill:




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Sammamish, Washington I&R Advisory Vote

Sammamish, Washington will be having an advisory note next Tuesday 4/28/2015 to judge public support for initiative and referendum. An advisory vote is not legally binding but should influence the council. Advisory votes can be called through an advisory petition (read more about advisory petitions here,) or by the legislative body in that jurisdiction. This advisory vote has been called by the Sammamish city council at their February 3, 2015 meeting.

Sammamish is a charter code city under Washington state law, but citizens do not currently have a binding legal means to propose municipal legislation apart from the city council. Harry Shedd a resident of Sammamish has put together a beautiful website explaining the advisory vote, and the initiative and referendum process.

For more information:

Sammamish Review
Ballotpedia page

Arguments in favor

Arguments against


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Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, Initiative, Petition Drive, referendum, Support These Campaigns!

Ethics Amendment, Tallahassee, Florida

An interesting ethics amendment passed in Tallahasse, Florida 11/04/2014


Text of the amendment:

Section 1. Charter Amendment.
The “Existing Municipality” provisions of Sections 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the Charter of the City of Tallahassee, having been previously deleted as being obsolete, are hereby reestablished as an Ethics, Anti-corruption, Campaign Financing subpart with new sections 1, 2, 3, and 4 to read as follows:
Section  1.  Statement  of  Ethics  and  Anti-corruption Policy.  The  proper  operation  of  responsible  government  requires  that  public  officials  and  employees  be  independent, impartial, and responsible to the people; that government decisions and policy be made in the best interests of the community and the government; that public office not be used for personal gain; that officials and employees not be unduly or inappropriately influenced by those they regulate or by those who seek special benefits from the City; and that the public have confidence in the integrity and transparency of its government.

Section 2. Ethics Code and Ethics Board to be established.

a. Ethics Code. The City Commission shall, within six (6) months of the enactment of this charter provision, enact an ethics, or conflicts of interest, code with jurisdiction over the officers and employees of the City of Tallahassee, whether elected or appointed, paid or unpaid, and over the members, officers and employees of any boards, commissions, or committees thereof. The ethics code may, as allowed by law, supplement state ethics laws.

b. Ethics Board. There is hereby created an independent, appointed, ongoing citizens Ethics Board of seven members, whose membership shall consist of registered City of Tallahassee electors who have appropriate subject matter expertise none of whom may be an officer or employee of local government. Each of the following persons or entities shall make an appointment of one of five Board members to wit: the City Commission, the Chief Judge for the Second Judicial Circuit, the State Attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit, the President of Florida State University and the President of  Florida A&M University. Two Board members shall be appointed by the Ethics Board. Initial appointments shall be  made  within 90 days  of the approval of this Charter provision and all subsequent appointments shall be  made  within 60 days of a vacancy occurring. The City Commission shall provide by ordinance for the length and staggering of the terms of Ethics Board members.

The Ethics Board shall: (i) assist the City Commission in the development of the ethics code; (ii) adopt bylaws and due process procedures for the administration of the Ethics Board; (iii) manage a citywide ethics hotline for receipt of allegations of local corruption, fraud, waste, mismanagement, campaign finance  and ethics violations; (iv) manage and coordinate the mandatory training of local officials, officers, employees, and board members in state and local ethics; (v) have the authority to refer ethics and corruption matters to appropriate enforcement agencies; (vi) recommend proposed ordinances, resolutions, or charter amendments to the City Commission in all areas of ethics and corruption, including but  not  limited  to:  conflicts  of  interests,  financial  disclosure,  voting  conflicts,  hotline  policies, ethics  education,  ethics  in  procurement,  campaign  ethics  and  financing,  and lobbying; such legislative proposals shall be filed with and considered by the City Commission; (vii) have the authority to investigate complaints and to levy those civil penalties as may be authorized by the City Commission for violations of the City’s ethics code; and  (viii) employ staff serving in the ethics office. A structure shall be established for the Ethics Board that ensures independence and impartiality, and provides for the maximum practicable input from citizens and community organizations.  The Ethics Board shall be funded by the City Commission within its discretionary budgetary authority at a level sufficient to discharge the Board’s responsibilities.

Section 3. Ethics Office Established.
The  ethics  code  established  pursuant  to  Section  2  shall  provide  for  the  establishment  of  a  citywide  Ethics  Office  under  the  exclusive  jurisdiction  of,  and  reporting  to  the independent Ethics Board, to discharge the duties and responsibilities of the Ethics Board as provided herein. The ethics office shall include an Ethics Officer/Director who may be a full time or part time city employee or independent contractor. The Ethics Office shall be funded by the City Commission within its discretionary budgetary authority at a level sufficient to discharge the Office’s responsibilities.

Section 4. Contribution Limitations; Citizen Campaign Financing, Refund of contributions to candidates.
a. No candidate for the Tallahassee City Commission shall accept any election campaign contribution from any contributor, including a political committee as defined by state law, in cash or in kind, in an amount in excess of $250 per election.
b. A registered elector of the City of Tallahassee may claim a refund equal to the amount of the elector’s monetary contributions made in the calendar year to candidates for Mayor and City Commission of the City of Tallahassee. The maximum refund for an individual is $25. A refund is allowed only if the elector files a form, signed under penalty of perjury, with the Ethics Board  and attaches to the form a copy of an official refund receipt form(s) issued by the candidate’s principal campaign committee after each contribution was received.  A claim form must be filed within time limits and procedures set by the Ethics Board.  No individual may file more than one claim per election cycle.  No receipt can be issued by a Candidate who has not met all legal requirements of the Tallahassee City Code of General Ordinances. The Ethics Board shall file a summary report to the Mayor and City Commission showing the total number and aggregate amount of political contribution refunds made on behalf of each candidate.
c. The City Commission shall establish procedures consistent with this section for the implementation of the refund policy. The amount the Ethics Board states is necessary to pay refunds as provided for in this section shall be appropriated in amounts from the general fund or any other fund as determined by the City Commission within their sole budgetary discretion and powers.
d. The filing  of  a  contribution  refund  form  containing  materially  false  information  or  the  willful  issuance  of  an  official  refund  receipt  form  or  a  facsimile  of  one  by  a candidate  or  agent  of  a  candidate  to  a  person  who  did  not  make  a  contribution  to  such  candidate  is  an ethics  offense  with  penalties  to  be  established  by the  City Commission.  The Ethics Board may hear complaints or initiate proceedings, and levy civil penalties, relating to alleged violations of this section.
Section 2.  Severability.  If any section, subsection or provision of this charter amendment is determined by a court to be invalid, the remainder of this charter amendment shall not be affected by such invalidity.
Pd. Pol. Adv. Paid for by Citizens for Ethics Reform, 1400 Village Square Blvd. #3-153, Tallahassee, FL 32312

From the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper:

Voters overwhelmingly approved sweeping new ethics and campaign-finance measures for the city of Tallahassee — an outcome that was no surprise to many political observers.

Yes votes for the city charter amendment were leading late Tuesday night. With 76 of 76 precincts reporting, unofficial results were:

Yes: 38,968 votes, 67 percent yes

No: 19,431 votes, 33 percent no

Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida and a driving force behind the charter amendment, applauded its passage.

Citizens for Ethics Reform A Florida group supporting the measure.

There is a national group pushing more of these initiatives.

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Online Petitions, Advisory Petitions, Plebiscite Petitions, and Initiative Petitions

Online petitions, advisory petitions, plebiscite petitions, and initiative petitions, each involve you signing your name in support of an issue. How are they different?

Online petitions are becoming more and more common. It’s easy to make an online petition. Google “petition” or “online petition” and you’ll get links to many places that will let you set up and account, link to your social media accounts, and ask your friends to sign your petition., ipetition, and We The People are all petition sites where you can use social media to build awareness for your issue. People use these sites to put pressure on politicians, companies, individuals or organizations to change laws, policies, or behaviors. There are many success stories. These petitions are not legally binding. Online petitions are effective in the same manner a boycott or rally can be effective, by drawing attention to a problem and putting pressure on people who have the power to take action. They’re also very effective for building lists.

Advisory petitions are a less common form of legal petitions. An advisory petition typically allows citizens to call a non-binding vote on a particular issue. The results of that election are intended to show public support or opposition to an issue with the hope politicians will take action to change the law.

A plebiscite petition is similar to an online petition but it’s not done online. Circulators carry petition forms and ask people to sign in support of a specific issue. Like online petitions they are used to put pressure on decision makes. They are also used to build lists.

Initiative petitions are different, they are a legal document people sign to force government officials to call a vote on a specific piece of legislation written on the petition. When you sign an initiative petition or gather signatures on an initiative petition you are working to allow voters a choice on that piece of legislation. Initiative petitions lead to a binding vote and are governed by very specific laws. These laws require the petition to comply with many specific details, details that are different in every state. When sponsors of an initiative petition have gathered enough signatures and submit the petition, the governing body is compelled to let voters decide the issue. When voters go to the ballot box the legislation is presented as a ballot question and people vote to approve or reject the initiated legislation. If voters approve the legislation it become law in that political subdivision.

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Statute or Amendment


The initiative is a means to bypass politicians. In many initiative states initiators have the choice of circulating petitions to propose a statute or a constitutional amendment, (in home rule cities initiators choose between ordinance and charter amendment). In some states lawmakers have the option of approving statutes and ordinances without sending the issue to voters, amendments require voter approval. Amendments also require more petition signatures.

Why do most initiators choose to put in the extra money and effort to propose amendments? Once passed amendments can’t be overturned without a vote of the people.

Gathering signatures, fighting legal battles, and running a campaign is a big commitment most initiators are only willing to make when they know their initiative will result in real change. It’s not surprising most initiators choose to go the constitutional or charter amendment route when possible.


Two recent examples where legislators are able to mess with voter approved initiatives:

South Dakota lawmakers recently exempted persons under 18 from a minimum wage increase approved by voters last November. Supporters of the minimum wage increase are organizing to run a referendum petition drive to challenge the exemption.

Washington state voters approved an initiative last fall to require lower class sizes in public schools. The senate recently passed a measure to change the initiated law and only require k-3rd grade classes be reduced in size, now they want to send it back to voters (further delaying the class size requirement.)


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