Municipal Ballot Measures

Per state code, all Idaho cities shall allow direct legislation by the people via proposal of ballot initiatives or referendums. At the municipal level, a ballot initiative or referendum are processes that provide a direct means for qualified voters residing within a city to create, amend, or repeal an ordinance for that city. (See I.C. § 34-1801B)

What are municipal ballot measures?
Proposals made by qualified electors to enact laws,  make constitutional amendments to existing laws, or repeal existing laws, that are placed on the ballot through the initiative or referendum process for approval or rejection by the electorate.

What is a municipal initiative?
A proposed new city ordinance or a proposed amendment to an existing city ordinance filed by a qualified elector. (See I.C. § 34-1801A)

What is a municipal referendum?
Proposed repeal of a recently adopted city ordinance filed by a qualified elector no later than sixty (60) days of the publication of the adopted ordinance. (See I.C. § 34-1801B(11))

What is a petition?
The actual petition with a signature page to collect signatures and a description of the proposed initiative or referendum. (See I.C. § 34-1801A)

Who is a qualified elector for a municipal ballot measure?
A qualified elector is any person who:

  • is eighteen (18) years of age;
  • is a United States citizen;
  • is registered to vote; and,
  • has resided in the City, or an area that the City has annexed within thirty (30) days of a city election.
    (See I.C. §§ 34-104, 50-402(c))

Who can propose a petition for a municipal initiative or referendum?
Anyone who is a qualified elector residing within the city may propose a petition for a municipal initiative or referendum. (See I.C. §§ 34- 1801A and 34-1801B)

How does a petitioner start the municipal ballot measure process?
Any individual or group begins the initiative or referendum process by filing a copy of a proposed measure with the City Clerk that at least twenty qualified electors have signed. (See I.C. § 34-1804) The format for this initial measure filing is set forth in I.C. § 34-1801A, and a template petition form is available here.

Who verifies the signatures on an initial municipal ballot measure petition?
The City Clerk provides the petition and signature sheets to the Ada County Clerk’s Office (i.e., the Ada County Elections Office) to verify the signatures. (See by analogy I.C. §§ 34-1801B(13) and (14), and required practically as the Ada County Elections Office maintains voter registration rolls, etc.)

What happens after the twenty (20) signatures on an initial ballot measure are verified?

  • Certificate of Review – the City Attorney will prepare the Certificate of Review within twenty (20) working days from the date the City receives the petition. In this document, the City Attorney provides advisory recommendations regarding the proposed measure's style, form, and legality. The Petitioner can accept or reject in whole or part these recommendations. (See I.C. § 34-1809(1))
  • Finalized Measure Language – Upon issuance of the Certificate of Review, the Petitioner must file a finalized measure petition with the City Clerk for assignment of ballot titles within fifteen (15) working days of the Certificate of Review issuance. (See I.C. § 34-1809(2))
  • Short/Long Ballot Titles & Approved Form of the Petition – Within ten (10) working days of receiving the finalized petition, the City Attorney shall provide short and long ballot titles for the measure to the City Clerk and a copy to the Petitioner. The short title must not exceed twenty (20) words and be the title by which the measure is commonly referred. The long ballot title must not exceed two hundred (200) words and be a true and impartial statement of the measure's purpose. Additionally, the City Attorney shall provide to the Petitioner and the City Clerk the approved form of the petition. (See I.C. §§ 34-1809(2)(a)-(e))
  • Final Petition Format - The general format for this initial measure filing is set forth in I.C. § 34-1801A; however, a template petition form is available here. (See I.C. § 34-1809(2)(a)-(e))
  • Appeals –
  • Any person dissatisfied with the ballot titles (as being unfair or insufficient) may appeal such titles within twenty (20) days of the ballot titles being filed by the City Attorney to the City Clerk. (See I.C. § 34-1809(3)(a))
  • Any qualified elector residing within the City may at any time bring an action in the Supreme Court to determine the constitutionality of the proposed measure. (See I.C. § 34-1809(4))

Who can sign a petition for a municipal initiative or referendum?
An initiative or referendum can be signed by any person who is a qualified elector of the City at the time of signing the petition. (See I.C. §§ 34-1801B(6))

Who can collect signatures for a municipal initiative or referendum petition?

  • Any person who circulates a petition for municipal initiative or referendum shall be:
  • a resident of the state of Idaho;
  • at least eighteen (18) years of age; and
  • shall certify their belief that each signer of the petition is a qualified elector of the state of Idaho and the city. (See I.C. § 34-1801B(9))
  • Any petition upon which signatures are obtained by a person not a resident of the state of Idaho and at least eighteen (18) years of age shall be void. (See I.C. § 34-1807(4))

How many verified signatures are required to get the measure on the ballot?

  • To perfect a petition for a municipal initiative or referendum, the petition must have verified signatures from at least twenty percent (20%) of the total number of qualified electors voting in the last general City election in November of an odd-numbered year. (See I.C. § 34-1801B(7))
  • Petitioners should anticipate and plan for many signatures failing the verification process and thus collect extra signatures.

How long does a petitioner have to gather signatures for a measure petition?
Petitioners have either one hundred eighty (180) days after the date they received their official ballot title from the City Clerk or April 30 of the year of the initiative or referendum election, whichever is earlier. (See I.C. § 34-1801B(12))

Where/how does the petitioner turn in all of their petitions and signatures?

  • Petitioners must submit their signatures to the City Clerk no later than one hundred eighty (180) days after the petitioners received their official ballot title from the city clerk, or April 30 of the year of the initiative or referendum election, whichever is earlier. (See I.C. § 34-1801B(12))
  • To provide clarity on the timeframe for signature verification (I.C. § 34-1801B(14) and 34-1802) and requests for signature removal from a petition by signers (I.C. § 34-1803B) – ballot measures and all of the accompanying signature sheets must be filed together. The City Clerk’s Office will not accept piecemeal filings.
  • The City Clerk shall provide the Petitioners a receipt for the received signatures.
  • The signatures are then submitted to the County Clerk for verification not later than the close of business on the first day of May in the year of the initiative or referendum election, or one hundred eighty (180) days after the petitioners received the official ballot title from the city clerk, whichever is earlier. (See I.C. § 34-1801B(13))

Who verifies the signatures, and how long does verification take?
The County Clerk has sixty (60) calendar days to verify the signatures, or until the last day of June in the year an election on the measure will occur, whichever is earlier. (See I.C. §§ 34-1801B (14) and 34-1802)

What happens next if the requisite number of verified signatures are gathered?

  • If the measure is perfected by having the requisite number of qualified signatures verified, the City Council must hold a public hearing on the proposed measure within thirty (30) days. The legal notice for the public hearing shall be published once in the City’s official newspaper of record at least seven (7) days preceding the hearing. (See I.C. § 34-1801B(15))
  • City Council shall have the option to adopt the proposed measure within thirty (30) days after the notification that the measure was perfected by obtaining the requisite number of verified signatures. (See I.C. § 34-1801B(15))
  • If City Council does not adopt the proposed measure within the thirty (30) day period, it shall be put on the general election ballot in November. (See I.C. § 34-1801B(15))
  • The City Clerk and City Attorney jointly prepare ballot language to provide a clear and concise statement about the effect of a “yes” or “no” vote on the measure. (See I.C. § 34-1810(1)(b))
  • The City Clerk provides the prepared ballot language, a certified copy of the ballot titles, and the ballot numbers for all perfected measures to the Ada County Clerk. (See I.C. § 34-1810)
  • If the proposed measure is going to be placed on a general election ballot, the City Clerk will prepare a Voters’ Pamphlet, in which an argument for and against the proposed ballot and rebuttal arguments are provided to the public. The City Clerk mails the Voters’ Pamphlet to all the households in the City. (See I.C. § 34-1812A, 34-1812B, and 34-1812C)

When is a municipal initiative or referendum election held?
Municipal Initiative and referendum elections are held on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November in odd-numbered years. (See I.C. § 34-1801B(3))

What if the electorate passes a municipal measure on the ballot?

  • Passed - To be passed into law, a majority of the votes cast on the measure shall approve an initiative or referendum. (See I.C. § 34-1801B(17))
  • Proclamation - The Mayor shall issue a proclamation that provides:
  • the number of votes for/against the passed measure; and
  • declares the measure approved and law from the date of the proclamation (unless a different effective date was provided in the measure that is no earlier than the proclamation date). (See I.C. §§ 34-1801B(18) and 34-1813(2)(b))
  • Adopted into City Code - The City Clerk shall publish an ordinance adopted by initiative or referendum within thirty (30) days after the proclamation by the mayor. (See I.C. § 34-1801B(19))

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