Qualifying a County Referendum for the Ballot
Persons considering a referendum on a city, county or district ordinance are urged to seek legal advice in order to ensure compliance with relevant provisions of law. The following outline is intended to provide general information about the subject and is not a substitute for legal counsel.
The Guide to Placing a County Initiative on the Ballot details the process with examples.
A. The heading on the petition shall read, “Referendum Against an Ordinance Passed by the Board of Supervisors”. EC 9147
(a) (All references are to the California Elections Code unless otherwise noted.)
B. The title and text of the ordinance or portion of the ordinance which is the subject of the referendum is to appear on each petition section. EC 9147 (b).
C. Signature spaces and address spaces are to be as provided in EC 100.
D. Each petition section shall contain a circulator’s affidavit as provided in EC 104 . EC 9109 and 9146. (See below in III. Circulator Requirements for further information on circulators.)
E. No requirement exists for the County Clerk to approve the format of the petition before circulators begin to obtain signatures.
F. There is no requirement that there be a warning about paid petition circulators. EC 101, which requires such a warning, only applies to initiatives.
G. Referendum proponents are encouraged to number their petition sections in order to better keep track of what their circulators are doing. Please do not use the upper right corner of the first page of the petition section for this purpose because the Elections Department office uses that area when it numbers the petition sections for verification of signatures.
A. The number of valid signatures is 10% of the votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election. EC 9144.
B. Petition signers must be registered voters in the County. EC 9144.
C. If someone registers to vote at the time of signing the petition, for the signature to be counted for purposes of qualifying the petition, the affidavit of registration must be signed on or before the date of signing the petition and the affidavit of registration must be received by the County Clerk on or before the date the petition is filed. EC 2102 (b). Petition circulators are encouraged to write the affidavit number in the margin of the petition opposite the voter’s signature to alert the Elections Department staff to the new registration.
D. Only a person who is an eligible registered voter at the time of signing the petition is entitled to sign it. Each signer at the time of signing shall personally affix his or her signature, printed name, and place of residence, giving street and number. EC 100. The voter’s residence address on the petition must be the same as on the voter’s registration affidavit for the petition signature to be valid. Post office boxes and business addresses are not valid. EC 105.
E. The number of signature spaces printed on a petition section and the number of signatures subsequently obtained on a petition section are at the option of the proponents and circulators, respectively.
A. Under no circumstances should petition circulators change or add to petition signatures or addresses. EC 18610-18611.
B. Any voter registration affidavits that have been completed by voters and received by petition circulators are to be returned to the Elections Department within three days, Saturdays, Sunday, and state holidays excepted. EC 2138 and 18103.
C. Any person who is over 18 may circulate a county referendum petition. EC 102 and 359.
D. The circulator must have circulated the petition and have witnessed the signatures being written. There is to be no posting of a petition for signatures in the absence of the circulator. EC 104 (b) (1).
E. See EC 104 for other information about the circulator.
There are no publication requirements. EC 9105 (b), requiring publication of a notice of intention, applies to a county initiative, not a referendum. In addition, it requires including in the publication of material from the County Counsel which could not be obtained in sufficient time for a referendum.
Filing Fee Requirements
No fee is required to file a county referendum.
Circulation Period Requirements
A. A referendum petition must be filed prior to the effective date of the ordinance. If this happens, the ordinance is suspended and the supervisors shall reconsider the ordinance. EC 9144.
B. With certain exceptions, ordinances take effect “30 days from and after the date of final passage.” EC 9141 (b)
C. All petition sections shall be filed at the same time. Any sections not so filed shall be void for all purposes. EC 9113 and 9146.
D. Petition sections are to be filed with the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors. EC 9144. If prior arrangements are made with the County Clerk and the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, a representative of the Clerk of the Board will be present at the Elections Department office and the filing can take place there. A specific time for the filing will need to be agreed upon.
E. We recommend that proponents of the referendum designate one person to collect and check all petition sections for completeness and that that person be the one to file them.
F. No supplementary petitions are permitted. EC 9113 and 9146.
Petition Examination Procedures and Time Frame
A. The Elections Department staff of the County Clerk’s office, acting for the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, will count the total number of signatures on the petition. If the total is less than the minimum number of signatures, no further action is taken. EC 9113.
B. If the petitions have enough signatures on their face, the County Clerk has 30 days from the date of filing to determine if there are enough valid signatures. EC 9114.
C. If there are more than 500 signatures, the County Clerk may check only a random sample of 500, or 3%, whichever is greater. EC 9115 (a). If, based on the random sample, the number of valid signatures on the petition as a whole is more than 110% of the number required, the petition qualifies; if it is between 95% and 110%, every signature in the petition will have to be verified. EC 9115 (b).
Certification to the Board of Supervisors and Board Action
A. If the County Clerk finds the petition sufficient, he or she will certify it to the Board of Supervisors at the Board’s next regular meeting. EC 9115 (f).
B. The Board of Supervisors shall reconsider the ordinance if the referendum petition is filed before the effective date of the ordinance. (See VI A and VI B above.) EC 9144.
C. The Board of Supervisors shall, according to EC 9145, either:
- Repeal the ordinance.
- Submit the ordinance to the voters at “the next regularly scheduled county election” (undefined) occurring not less than 88 days after the date of the order. Presumably this would be a primary election or a general election in an even-numbered year.
- Submit the ordinance to the voters at a special election called for that purpose not less than 88 days after the date of the order.
D. A referendum election is not required to be held on an “established” election date. EC 1000 and 1003 (e).
Ballot Arguments and Rebuttals; Sample Ballot Booklet
The County Clerk will prepare an election calendar and publish a legal notice setting deadlines for ballot arguments and rebuttal arguments. The County Clerk will mail to each voter a sample ballot booklet containing the ordinance, an impartial analysis by the County Counsel, one argument in favor and one against (if any are submitted), and a rebuttal of each argument (if any are submitted). A ballot argument will contain no more than 300 words and a rebuttal will contain no more that 250 words.
The Guidelines for Submitting Arguments regarding measures will assist anyone preparing an argument for or against a measure.
Cost of Election
The cost of a countywide special election not consolidated with anything else is approximately $40,000. If consolidated with a primary election or a general election in an even-numbered year when there are many other offices and measures on the ballot, the cost of adding a referendum might be no more than $2,000. The actual cost would involve mainly printing and proofing costs and would depend primarily on the length of the ordinance or portion of the ordinance against which the referendum is directed.
Vote Majority Required for Ordinance to be Approved
The ordinance shall not become effective unless and until a majority of the voters voting on the ordinance vote in favor of it. EC 9145.