The California Initiative and Referendum Process
The attorneys at the Sacramento and LA offices of Kassouni Law offer a wide array of legal services. Those who retain our lawyers can expect to work with a legal team that truly cares about each client’s adversity with a strategic focus on obtaining a positive outcome.
Here’s what our attorneys in Sacramento and LA have to say about the California Initiative and Referendum Process…
California has long held a reputation for innovation. In 1849 our state constitution instituted a radical new form of direct democracy, which has helped shape California’s unique political culture and legal landscape. From the beginning our constitution gave citizens the right to vote directly on constitutional amendments, and to vote on certain other measures through a referendum process.
Today Californians have the right to propose new laws, or new constitutional amendments through initiative or referenda. Citizens can also bring a special form of referendum to veto a law that the legislature has passed. These rights were established through a constitutional amendment in 1911, California Proposition 7, which expanded our democratic rights. Previously, amendments and state statutes had to originate in the legislature; however, now every citizen—elected or not—has the right to play a part in California’s governance.
If you have the drive and inclination, you have the right under California’s Constitution to place a referendum or initiative on the ballot. It may be a substantial undertaking, but you nonetheless have the option to take control of your government. You can even draft your own proposal; however, it is advisable to consult an attorney with expertise in whatever area of the law that you are concerned with as you begin the process. It is also wise to have a trusted attorney on hand, to guide you through the submission process, and to help address issues as they arise.
Whatever your issue is, you must satisfy certain requirements in order to get an initiative or referendum on the ballot. In order to succeed, you must collect a requisite number of signatures. This is not always easy, and the number required depends on how many votes were cast in the last gubernatorial election. If you seek to place an initiative on the ballot to change state law, you will need to collect enough signatures to constitute five percent of all votes cast. If you want a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot you will need even more signatures—eight percent of the total votes cast in the last election.
When collecting signatures, it is particularly important to properly document all necessary information. Only registered voters count and in many cases questionable signatures will not be authenticated. Accordingly, you may need to collect more signatures than you might assume necessary because some signatures may be deemed invalid; however, once you have collected enough valid signatures, you can submit your initiative to the California Attorney General. On payment of a modest submission fee, the Attorney General is then charged with certifying your initiative for the ballot if you have enough signatures and if you have complied with all other processing requirements. Here again, an attorney with experience in election law issues can be of great assistance if a dispute arises.
If you succeed in getting your initiative on the ballot, it will become law if a majority of voters support it on Election Day. As Californians we are lucky to have such a free and open election process. Citizens of most other states do not have this sort of direct control over their government.