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Learn About Initiatives and Referenda
Washington State voters have a long history of enacting or modifying state law directly through the initiative and referendum petition processes. In fact, the right to do so is part of our state constitution.
Snohomish County and some area cities and towns also allow voters to enact local ordinances or laws through local initiative and referendum petition processes.
- To start a petition to enact or change a county ordinance or law, review Article 5 of the Snohomish County Charter which outlines the process for petition the county.
- To start a petition to enact or change a city ordinance or law, contact the appropriate city or town clerk or administrator to confirm the local code allows for petitions and to understand the steps in the process.
Petitions are also used to recall election officials, in place of the fee to file for local office and in other specific circumstances in state law. Elected official recall processes are outlined in chapter 29A.56 of the state law. For information about filing fee petitions contact our office at 425-388-3444.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do all cities and towns in Snohomish County allow citizens to enact local laws through the petition processes?
No, there are some cities and towns in Snohomish County that allow citizens to petition for local laws and law changes and others that do not. Please contact the city or town clerk or administrator to determine if they allow for local petitions or check the city or town municipal code.
What is the difference between an “initiative” and a “referendum” petition?
The term “initiative” is used when a group of citizens petitions to enact a new law. The term “referendum” is used when a group of citizens petitions to change or challenge an existing law.
Can any ordinance or law be enacted or challenged by the petition process?
Not every ordinance or law can be enacted or challenged by the petition process. The County Charter states that ordinances providing for the compensation or working conditions of county employees, redistricting of council districts, authorization or repeal of any appropriation of money or any portion of the budget, and authorization or repeal of taxes or fees, shall not be subject to initiative. In addition to these conditions, emergency ordinances are not subject to the referendum process.
Restrictions may exist with city and town petitions as well. Check with the city or town clerk or administrator for more information on what, if any, restrictions exist.
Where do I start if I want to make or change a law?
The best first step is to communicate your ideas to the legislative authority of the jurisdiction. For instance, if you want to change a law in a city you will need to approach the city council. Typically, meeting times and locations are listed on the jurisdiction’s webpage. The jurisdiction will also be able to answer questions in regards to any petition processes that exist for its jurisdiction.
What does a petition include?
A petition is a form or a set of identical forms that includes lines used to gather the signatures of registered voters who would also like to see the proposed law or law change considered or placed on the ballot.
Petition forms typically include a summary of the issue as it is proposed to appear on a ballot, the complete text of the proposed law or law change, a statement for voters to attest to before signing and information about the individual gathering the voter signatures.
The format of the petition may vary depending on the county, city or town that will be receiving it. Check with the county, city or town clerk or administrator to ensure your petition format meets their requirements before collecting voter signatures.
How many signatures are needed?
In most cases, the number of signatures is a percentage of the number of voters that participated in a previous election. For example, for a certain type of Snohomish County petition, the requirement is 7% of the voters voting in the last governor’s race. Be aware that petition signers must be registered to vote within the boundaries of the jurisdiction.
Check with the county, city or town clerk or administrator that will be receiving the petition to determine the number of signatures required based on when you plan to circulate and submit your petition.
When can I start gathering signatures?
When you can start gathering signatures depends on the local county, city or town requirements. State law and local codes may also require that a signature on a petition be signed within six months or some other period of time of being reviewed by the county, city or town. In these situations you want to be careful to have the voter include a date when they sign and ensure that the petitions are turned in before the signatures are considered too old.
Refer to the county code or contact the city or town clerk or administrator where you plan on circulating a petition to determine when you can start gathering signatures.
Where do I turn in a completed petition?
In most cases, the petition is turned into the jurisdiction that is affected by the petition. Refer to the county code or contact the city or town clerk or administrator where you plan on circulating a petition to determine where to turn in your completed petition.
What happens with a petition once it is submitted to the county, city or town?
Once you submit a petition, what happens next is determined by applicable state law and local codes. Next steps can vary county to city to town. Commonly the county, city, or town clerk will transmit the petition to Snohomish County Elections to validate that the signatures on the petition are of registered voters in the county, city, or town. The council may also consider the subject of the petition and whether to directly enact it into law. Finally, the council may be required to place the issue on the ballot before voters.
Refer to the county code or contact the city or town clerk or administrator where you plan on circulating a petition to determine the complete process.