We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

In the United States, How do I get an Initiative on the Ballot?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
America Explained is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At America Explained, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

The initiative and referendum system is part of the American legal landscape in 24 states. In these states, citizens may write initiatives to amend the state Constitution or propose new statutes, and in some cases repeal laws with referendums. In the case of either an initiative or a referendum, the voting public decides on the outcome of the proposal during an election. In each state which allows citizens to put initiatives on the ballot, the process is slightly different, but the basics remain the same.

Currently, Nevada, California, Illinois, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Idaho, Colorado, Montana, Maine, Massachusetts, Alaska, Florida, Nebraska, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, Missouri, Mississippi, Arkansas, Michigan, and Ohio allow voters to submit initiatives to the state ballot. Florida and Mississippi only allow amendments to the state constitution. Three more states, New Mexico, Kentucky, and Maryland, permit popular referendums, but not initiatives.

The first step in getting an initiative on the ballot is writing the text of the proposed initiative. Typically, a lawyer or team or lawyers performs this part of the task, to ensure that the text will be legal, clear, and enforceable. After the text of the initiative is written, it is submitted to a state official for review. This is usually the State Attorney General or the Secretary of State, and he or she writes an official title and summary for the initiative after reviewing it.

Once the initiative has been reviewed by the state, the group organizing it can start to gather signatures. The number of signature needed depends on voter turnout in the last major election. In most states, amendments to the state constitution require petition signatures by eight percent of the voters registered in the state, and new laws require between five and six percent. The signatures must be valid, as many states check the signatures against a list of voters registered in the state.

The state gives the group organizing the petition a deadline for filing. If the group collects enough signatures in time, the initiative or referendum will be placed on the ballot, and voters can decide on it. In the both cases, the paperwork must be completed and filed well before the election, to ensure that it will be included on the ballot.

An initiative can be suggested at any time, because it is a modification of the laws of the state. Paperwork on a referendum, on the other hand, must be filed within 90 days of the passage of the law in question. Voters cannot retroactively decide that they disapprove of the laws of their state, but they can act to strike down laws which they think are unconstitutional or unreasonable.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
America Explained, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

America Explained, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.