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State Ballot Initiative

Laws are usually created when a bill passes both houses of the state Legislature and is signed by the governor. But there is another route for citizens to take to get a law passed: a ballot initiative.

Simply described, a ballot initiative is a petition. Get enough signatures on your petition and you’ll have your new law. However, there is a process that must be followed to actually get this done.

The first step to passing your new law is to fill out and submit a ballot initiative application with the lieutenant governor (LG). The application is found online, but it must be submitted in person or mailed. The LG’s office can reject the application if it doesn’t meet the following qualifications:

• There must be at least 5 sponsors
• The new law can’t be obviously unconstitutional
• It must address only one subject
• The title must clearly describe the subject
• Petition cannot be the same as any petition filed with the LG’s office in the last two years

Once your application has been accepted by the LG’s office, the office will send it to the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget to estimate the fiscal impact should the law pass.

At this point, you still haven’t even started gathering signatures yet – and you still can’t until you hold at least seven public hearings in seven different regions in Utah:

• Bear River region – Box Elder, Cache or Rich County
• Southwest region – Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane or Washington County
• Mountain region – Summit, Utah or Wasatch County
• Central region – Juab, Millard, Piute, Sanpete, Sevier or Wayne County
• Southeast region – Carbon, Emery, Grand or San Juan County
• Uintah Basin region – Daggett, Duchesne or Uintah County
• Wasatch Front region – Davis, Morgan, Salt Lake, Tooele or Weber County

These hearings must be open to the public, publicized in a local newspaper, and made known to the LG and local elected officials (state representatives, county commissioners). Also, video or written transcripts must be taken and provided to the LG for public consumption.

Once this is done you’re finally ready to start gathering signatures!

There are, of course, requirements to meet here as well:

• Signers must be registered to vote in Utah
• Total number of signatures must equal 10 percent of the votes cast in Utah in the last presidential election. In 2012, 1.02 million votes were cast, so you would gather 102,000 signatures.
• Signatures must come from 26 of the 29 Senate districts in Utah.
• Signatures in those 26 districts must equal 10 percent of the votes cast in that district in the last presidential election.
• Signatures must be verified by the county clerk where they were collected.

Your petition must be submitted to the county clerks for verification on or before April 15. Some of those signatures will be found invalid for various reasons (e.g., signers weren’t registered voters), so it’s always a good idea to submit more signatures than is required.

Once your petition has been successfully submitted and signatures verified, it’s up to you to explain to the general public why they should vote for your initiative in November.

Local Ballot Initiative

If the goal for your petition is a local city or county law, rather than a state law, the rules are pretty similar. There’s still a signature requirement, but the number is determined by local votes in the last gubernatorial race. For instance, if your city had more than 25,000 total votes for governor, then you’d have to collect 10 percent of that number. But if your city had only 500 votes cast, then you’d have to gather 25 percent of that number, or 125 signatures. If your city council is split into districts, then you’ll have to gather signatures from all districts in proportion to their vote numbers as well. As with state ballot initiatives, signatures must be verified and turned in by April 15.

Dig Deeper:

Lieutenant Governor’s Office: Ballot Initiatives

Utah Code: Signature Requirements

History of Utah Initiatives: Results

Application for an Initiative

Utah Election Results

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