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If there is an issue that you think should become a law, you don’t have to wait until your state legislature agrees with you. You can let the voters decide by filing a ballot initiative. Your direct action can qualify your measure to be on the ballot in the next statewide election.

Last updated on: September 15, 2020

The Ballot Initiative Process in California

Source: 2020 California Secretary of State: Statewide Initiative Guide

The following is an overview of the process for filing a ballot initiative in California. Please visit the California Secretary of State’s website for more details.

Draft Your Ballot Initiative in California

You can write your initiative yourself or with the assistance of a lawyer. If the legislature has a reasonable belief that your measure will pass, you may even submit a request to ask that Legislative Counsel write the language of the law for you.

At your request, the Secretary of State will review the form and language of your measure and will obtain a fiscal impact statement from the Legislative Analyst’s office for your measure. 

Fees and Filing

You need to pay a $2,000 fee and file the following with the Attorney General:

  1. a draft of the proposed initiative measure 
  2. a written request for a circulating title and summary of the main purpose and points of the proposed initiative measure
  3. public contact information and an original signed certification confirming the age and citizenship for each and every proponent of the measure
  4. a signed statement from each proponent stating that they will not knowingly use the signatures that they intend to gather for any reason apart from qualifying the initiative for the ballot

After a period of review, the Attorney General will send the circulating title and summary to you. This date, called the Official Summary Date, will be used to calculate deadlines for the measure.
You may not circulate any petitions regarding your measure before the Official Summary Date. 

The Petition Format

The law requires that you follow very specific formatting guidelines for your petition, including font type and size, statements that must be included, numbering conventions, and other requirements. Petitions that do not meet these requirements will be rejected by county elections officials. See the 2020 California Secretary of State: Statewide Initiative Guide for specific details.

Circulating Petitions and Gathering Signatures

You have a maximum of 180 days to circulate petitions, collect signatures, and file your petition with county election officials. You must certify your initiative for the ballot at least 131 days before the next general election. If it qualifies, the initiative will appear in this election.

You need to gather the following number of signatures from individuals registered to vote in the state of California in order for the measure to qualify for the ballot:

  • Initiative Statute: at least 5% of the total votes cast for the office of Governor at the last gubernatorial election. In 2020, that number is 623,212.
  • Initiative Constitutional Amendment: at least 8% of the total votes cast for the office of Governor in the previous election. In 2020, that number is 997,139.

Once you gather 25% of the required number of signatures, you will let the Secretary of State know. You will sign this certification under penalty of perjury.

For details regarding the petition process, see the 2020 California Secretary of State: Statewide Initiative Guide.

Turning in Petitions

Once you have collected the necessary number of signatures, you may file your petition with the appropriate county elections official(s). You may submit your petition in sections. However, when you submit sections for a single county, you need to file them at the same time. They must contain signatures of registered voters from that particular county, as well. 

Only proponents of the initiative, or their representatives authorized in writing, may file a petition. 

After filing your petition, you’ll need a court order to amend it.

Signature Verification for California Ballot Initiatives

Once the petition is filed, the signature verification process begins. There are three steps to verification:

  • Raw Count
    Officials have 8 days to determine the exact number of signatures submitted. The initiative fails to qualify for the ballot if it has less than the required number of signatures. If the initiative has the required number of signatures, the Secretary of State will order a random sample.
  • Random Sample
    In a random sample, county elections officials have two options. They can verify at least 500 signatures in 30 days. They can also verify 3% of the number of signatures filed in their county. They’ll need to choose whichever option is greater. Counties with fewer than 500 signatures must verify all signatures. The Secretary of State then uses a formula to form a projected statewide total of valid signatures.
    • Failure to qualify: If the projected total is less than 95% of the required number of signatures, the measure fails to qualify. 
    • Eligible for the ballot: If the total is greater than 110% of the required number, the measure will be eligible to appear on the ballot.
    • Full check required: If the total is between 95 percent and 110 percent, the Secretary of State orders a Full Check.
  • Full Check
    When the Secretary of State orders a Full Check, officials have 30 days to verify every signature on the petition. If the number of valid signatures does not meet the minimum required, the measure will fail to qualify. If the number meets or exceeds the minimum, it will be eligible to appear on the next statewide election ballot.

Qualification of a Ballot Initiative in California

Once your petition signatures are verified and equal to the required number, your measure will be eligible for the ballot. 131 days before the next statewide general election, the Secretary of State will issue a certificate of qualification certifying that the measure is qualified for the ballot.

To read the complete requirements and restrictions for filing a ballot initiative, please visit the California Secretary of State’s website.

Contact us today to find out how you can use our more than 20 years of experience in the industry to get your measure qualified for the ballot.