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Ballot Initiatives - Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is an Initiative?

The initiative is the power of electors to directly propose and enact state laws, both by statute and amendment, of the California Constitution.

In order to be placed on a statewide ballot for consideration by voters, an initiative petition must be presented to the Secretary of State, certified by local election officials to have been signed by a specified number of qualified registered voters. An initiative measure may not address more than one subject. (Cal. Const., art. II, § 8, subds. (a) & (b).)

2. What is a Referendum?

The referendum is the power of electors to approve or reject statutes, or parts of statutes, enacted by the Legislature. However, the referendum does not apply to urgency statutes, statutes calling elections, and statutes providing for tax levies or appropriations for usual current expenses of the State.

In order to be placed on a statewide ballot for consideration by voters, a referendum petition must be presented to the Secretary of State, certified by local election officials to have been signed by a specified number of qualified registered voters. A referendum petition must be submitted to the Secretary of State for certification within 90 days after the enactment date of the statute. (Cal. Const., art. II, § 9, subds. (a) & (b).)

3. I have an idea for an Initiative but am not sure how to write the text. Where can I get help?

For a general explanation of the procedure and requirements for preparing and qualifying an initiative measure, we recommend that you review the most recent edition of the Secretary of State’s Statewide Ballot Initiative Guide which is available for download free of charge from her website at: http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/ballot-measures/how-to-qualify-an-initiative.htm. You may request a printed copy of the pamphlet by contacting the Secretary of State’s Office, which is located at 1500 11th Street, in Sacramento, California. The telephone number of the Elections Division is (916) 657-2166.

4. I have the text of my initiative, and would like to submit it to the Attorney General's Office for a Title and Summary. How may I submit the request, and what do I need to provide?

Title and summary requests may be submitted to the Attorney General's Initiative Coordinator as follows:

Initiative Coordinator
Office of the Attorney General
1300 I Street, 17th Floor
Sacramento, CA 95814

Only printed documents will be accepted. Requests submitted by e-mail or facsimile will not be processed.

A title and summary request must include all of the following:

  1. A written request that a circulating title and summary of the chief purpose and points of the proposed measure be prepared. This request must contain the proponent’s original signature.
  2. The complete text of the initiative measure.
  3. An original signed, dated certification for each proponent stating that:

    "I, (insert name), declare under penalty of perjury that I am a citizen of the United States, 18 years of age or older, and a resident of (insert county), California." (Elec. Code, § 9001.)
  4. An original signed, dated certification for each proponent stating that:

    “I, (insert name), acknowledge that it is a misdemeanor under state law (Section 18650 of the Elections Code) to knowingly or willfully allow the signatures on an initiative petition to be used for any purpose other than qualification of the proposed measure for the ballot. I certify that I will not knowingly or willfully allow the signatures for this initiative to be used for any purpose other than qualification of the measure for the ballot.” (Elec. Code, § 9608.)
  5. A $200 fee, payable to the State of California.

5. How do I make amendments to my proposed initiative measure once it has been submitted to the Attorney General's Office for preparation of a Title and Summary?

There are two types of amendments: non-substantive and substantive.

Non-substantive amendments (e.g., correcting a typographical error) will be accepted from the proponent(s) until the date the Title and Summary is issued.

Substantive amendments may be accepted until close of business on the 15th calendar day following receipt of the measure by the Attorney General's Office. After the 15 calendar days, the proponent(s) must submit a new proposal with the appropriate changes and withdraw the original submission. This would require the proponent(s) to start the process again - See Q&A #4 above for the five requirements.

If the Attorney General's Office determines that a change is substantive, rather than non-substantive, the proponent(s) will be given the opportunity to let the measure proceed unchanged or amend the measure by the procedure as described.

In order for the Attorney General to prepare a circulating title and summary using the amended language, the amendment must be submitted with a signed request by all the proponents to the Attorney General’s Initiative Coordinator located in the Sacramento Attorney General’s Office via U.S. Postal Service, alternative mail service or personal delivery. (Elec. Code, § 9002, subds. (b) & (c).)

6. How long will it take for the official circulating title and summary to be issued?

Typically, the Attorney General issues an official circulating title and summary approximately 50-55 days following receipt of the final draft of the initiative text from the proponent. However, before issuing a circulating title and summary, the Attorney General must first request the preparation of a fiscal impact analysis from the Department of Finance and the Legislative Analyst's Office. These agencies have 25 business days after receipt of the proposed measure from the Attorney General's Office to prepare such an estimate.

Upon receipt of the fiscal impact report, the Attorney General's Office will issue an official circulating title and summary to the proponent within 15 calendar days. A copy of the official circulating title and summary is provided to the Secretary of State, and the Legislature on the official summary date, which is the date the title and summary is sent to the proponent. The Attorney General issues a circulating title and summary for referendum measures within 10 calendar days following receipt of the text from the proponent. A fiscal impact estimate is not included in a referendum title and summary.

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