Question of the Month ~ February 2017
Q. What signature requirements do states have for ballot measures?
Six states in the Midwest have “direct democracy”-type provisions that allow voters to veto bills passed by their legislatures or to adopt statutory or constitutional changes via the ballot.
One of the first steps for groups seeking a ballot proposal is to get the requisite number of signatures, and that threshold can vary — depending not only on the state, but also on the nature of the proposal (veto referendum, initiated statute or constitutional amendment).
Here is an overview of the signature requirements in each of the Midwest’s states:
In Illinois, initiatives can only be used to advance constitutional amendments affecting the legislative article on structure and procedure. The state requires the signatures of 8 percent of voters, using the total votes cast for governor in the preceding election, to put a constitutional measure on the ballot.
Michigan also bases its signature requirement on the number of votes cast for governor in the previous election. The percentage varies according to the type of measure: 10 percent for constitutional amendments, 8 percent for initiated statutes and 5 percent for a veto referendum.
Nebraska links its signature requirement to the number of registered voters, according to CSG’s “Book of the States.” But because this is tied to the number of people who have registered to vote by the day signatures are due, petition collectors do not know the exact number of signatures they will need. The state requires signatures of 10 percent of registered voters for constitutional amendments and 7 percent for statute.
Nebraska also has two types of referenda — if a law is referred to a vote but remains in effect until that vote, signatures of 5 percent of voters are required to get the referendum on the ballot. The law can be suspended until the vote if 10 percent of voters sign the petition.
North Dakota does not have voter registration, so its signature requirements are tied to results of the last 10-year census. Constitutional amendments require signatures of 4 percent of the population; the threshold for statutes and referenda is 2 percent.
In Ohio, every petition for a ballot measure must have 1,000 preliminary signatures. If these initial signatures are certified and approved, then backers of the ballot measure must meet a requirement based on the number of votes cast for governor in the previous election (just like the laws in Michigan and Illinois).
Proposed constitutional amendments require signatures that equal 10 percent of the votes cast in the governor’s race (305,591 in 2016). The threshold for an initiated statute is 3 percent. Once this standard is met, the proposal goes to the Ohio General Assembly for consideration. If the legislature does not consider or pass the proposal, then an additional 3 percent of signatures is required.
The threshold for a proposed referendum (repeal of an existing law) is 6 percent.
South Dakota requires constitutional amendments to have signatures equaling 10 percent of the votes cast for governor and initiated statutes and veto referenda to have signatures totaling 5 percent of the votes cast.
Article written by Ilene Grossman, CSG Midwest assistant director. Question of the Month highlights a research inquiry received by CSG Midwest.