INITIATING A REFERENDUM
Authority 10 ILCS 5/28
A referendum is a question placed on the ballot for voter consideration. During an election, no more than three referenda are allowed on the ballot from the same political subdivision. The Illinois Election Code provides that no referendum shall be allowed on the ballot for an election in which the voters of a political subdivision are not scheduled to vote for a candidate for nomination or election to public office.
Who May Initiate
A question of public policy may be submitted to the voters by referendum when authorized by statute, e.g. 10 ILCS 5/28-6, 7 or provided by the Illinois Constitution. The method for initiating the submission of a public question to the voters of a designated unit of government may be accomplished by: 1.) Ordinance or resolution of the governing board for the unit of government, or 2.) A petition containing the required number of signatures of registered voters in the district.
TYPE OF PUBLIC QUESTION
- Legally Binding Questions 10 ILCS 5/28-1
Where there is statutory authority for the action initiated by the political subdivision of government (i.e. bond issue, increase in a tax levy rate, etc.) the question is mandatory and is legally binding. A binding referendum can be placed on the ballot by an ordinance or resolution adopted by the governing body of a political subdivision, e.g., a village, school district or special district. All other public questions are non-binding and are referred to as advisory questions.
- Advisory Questions 10 ILCS 5/28-1; 5/28-6
An advisory referendum is a method for gauging public opinion. Results are not binding on the unit of government. Unless otherwise specified, an advisory question placed on the ballot by petition is subject to the general petition requirements found in the Illinois Election Code and the referendum petition requirements cited in this pamphlet. The petition must be signed by registered voters in the district. The number of signatures required is at least 8% of total votes cast for candidates for Governor in the preceding gubernatorial election within the district impacted by the public question. Authorizing statutes may limit a referendum to a particular election.
- Non-Home Rule Exception 10 ILCS 5/28-1, 28-6 Advisory questions in non-home rule units of government can be initiated only by petition and cannot be by resolution or ordinance (Ill. Atty. Gen. Opinion 83-013). There are a few exceptions. County boards, municipalities, park and school districts may adopt a resolution to place an advisory question on the ballot, and Public Act 88-62 allows either the electors at a township meeting or the township board by resolution to place an advisory question on the ballot.
INITIATED BY PETITION
Requirements 10 ILCS 5/28-2,3
The required elements of petitions are set forth in the Illinois Election Code at 10 ILCS 5/28-2, 3. The County Clerk’s office can provide copies of the pertinent statutes, but cannot provide legal counsel on the content or creation of petitions. By court opinion, each petition shall include the following:
- Above the space for signatures, each sheet shall contain an appropriate heading stating the question to be submitted; the political subdivision, district or precinct in which it is to be submitted; and the election at which it is to be submitted.
- The heading of each sheet shall be uniform.
- Petition sheets must be of uniform size.
- Petition sheets must be fastened together in a secure and suitable manner.
- Petition sheets must be numbered in consecutive order beginning with the top sheet as number “1.”
- Petitions must include the signatures of registered voters in the political subdivision with their residence address printed.
- The circulator’s signature shall appear at the bottom of each petition page. The signature shall be notarized by someone other than the circulator.
The petition must be signed by registered voters in the district. The number of signatures required is at least 8% of total votes cast for candidates for Governor in the preceding gubernatorial election within the district impacted by the public question. Any person signing a petition must be a registered voter within the district in question. The voter must sign his/her signature in the presence of the circulator and must indicate on the petition their residence address, including street address and city, town or village.
A circulator must be 18 years of age or older and a citizen of the United States. The circulator must personally witness all the qualified signatures given on the petition and must affirm and sign the required affidavit (found on the bottom of each petition sheet) in the presence of a notary public stating that all signatures were taken in his or her presence. (10 ILCS 5/7-10, 8-8 and 10-4).
When To File 10 ILCS 5/28-2, 28-6, 28-7
A petition for a public question shall be filed not less than 92 days prior to a regular election to be eligible for submission on the ballot.
Note: A resolution or ordinance initiating a public question must be adopted by the appropriate local governing board not less than 79 days before a regular election and must be certified to the County Clerk for ballot not later than 68 days before the election.
Where To File
A petition to initiate a public question for submission to the voters within a district or local unit of government must be filed with the local election official for the unit of government it is affecting. For example, an advisory referendum regarding a village or municipality must be filed with the local village or municipal clerk. For purposes of legal notice, a petition should include a certificate stating the name and address of one proponent of the public question or the attorney for the proponents.
SUPPORTING OR OPPOSING REFERENDUM
Several resources to assist proponents or opponents of a public question are available for review or purchase from the Macoupin County Clerk’s office, including maps, lists of voters, and important deadlines.
When petitions for a public question are filed with the local election official, a Notice of Obligation (State Board of Elections form D-5) should be made available to the proponent/ opponent whose name is indicated on the petition or to the attorney for the proponents. Illinois campaign disclosure laws require that when $5,000 has been collected or expended in support of or opposing a public question, financial details must be reported. Political committees anticipating reaching the $5,000 threshold should file a Statement of Organization (form D-1)..
Filing a Statement of Organization (form D-1) as a political committee or as proponents/opponents of a public question serves to create a campaign committee as required under Illinois campaign disclosure laws.