How to qualify an initiative for the ballot

25 Nov


I got a big kick out of this skit on Saturday Night Live, now making it’s way around the internet:

I realize there are those who feel this is an inaccurate portrayal of what’s been going on with immigration reform, but I think it’s a pretty accurate as far as how things really work in our government.

I love the part where the Executive Order says, “I didn’t have time to read myself!” Except for the fact that a bill is an inanimate object, not a person, I think that’s pretty accurate.

But we can’t blame President Obama, or this faceless entity known as “The Gub’mint” without turning the mirror on ourselves – we can’t just sit back and throw tomatoes, we have to roll up our sleeves and get in there and try to take more responsibility for governing ourselves.

As we all know,  our government is  still set up to allow us to create our own laws. It’s quite a task, I will say, but not insurmountable for a dedicated group, especially on the local level. In Hemet, the taxpayers association got two measures on the 2010 ballot, and both passed with some 80 percent  of the vote. They spent about $7,000. One measure created term limits for city council members and the other ended the practice of paying for the councilors’ health insurance policies.

I already knew, an “initiative” is a proposal directly from some group of citizens, to be placed on the ballot for general election, given that the proponents can demonstrate enough support by collecting signatures. I wanted to find out more about the actual process so I got online and did some research. When I looked at the city charter to find out more about placing a measure on the local ballot, I found the city defers to the same laws  accepted by the state of California, so I went to the Secretary of State’s website here:

It sure sounds simple enough – get a group of 25 or more people willing to sign a petition to request help from the Office of Legislative Counsel in writing a draft of your proposed law. This is free, but you will need at least 25 dedicated people. You could also get a lawyer, and pay for that, or you could write the draft yourself(ves) and take your chances.

Once you have cleared this hurdle, you will need to pony up a refundable (or maybe not) $200 fee to get a title and summary written by the Attorney General to be placed on the petitions. If you collect enough signatures to qualify it for the ballot, you get your $200 back, but that remains to be seen.  Here’s where the going starts to get rugged – I don’t even know what it costs to have a petition printed these days, but it’s not free.  And, there’s all kinds of rules. Of course there’s help with the rules from the elections office, but if you print it wrong and they throw it out for one reason or another, all that money is out the window.

I’m glad this process is not easy. If you can’t get 25 or 30, or even 50 other people interested in an idea for a ballot measure, you should probably let it go. It always boils down to The People.


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