Instructions for a Local Referendum
A local referendum is a petition to put an existing law to a vote of the people for their approval or rejection. To place a local referendum on the ballot, the sponsors of a referendum must complete the procedures described below. Please note that referenda on a land use law, subjurisdictional law, or property taxes are subject to modified requirements.
If a group of individuals raises or spends money in relation to a ballot proposition, it will likely need to register a Political Issues Committee (PIC) with the Lieutenant Governor’s Office and regularly disclose finances. Click this link to read the PIC “quick guide.”
DISCLAIMER: This information is not a substitute for Utah State Code, and it is not intended to be a comprehensive statement of law. If any inconsistency exists between this website and statute, the statutory language governs. Referendum applications that were pending prior to May 13, 2019 are subject to older regulations and requirements; contact the local clerk for more information. Please consult Utah State Code Title 20A Chapter 7 Part 6.
Step 1: Determine the Referendum’s Signature Requirement (Utah Code 20A-7-601)
A referendum must collect a certain number of holographic (i.e., handwritten) signatures to be placed on the ballot. The signature requirement depends on the number of active voters within the jurisdiction, the jurisdiction’s classification, and the type of law being referred. Because classifications and the number of active voters vary from one jurisdiction to another, sponsors should contact their local clerk to determine their specific signature requirement.
Click on this link to view three tables that outline the general signature requirements for a land use law referendum, a subjurisdictional law referendum, and referenda on all other local laws. The definition of a land use law can be found in Utah Code 20A-7-101(9), and the definition of a subjurisdictional law can be found in Utah Code 20A-7-601(1)(c).
All referenda must obtain signatures from a percentage of active voters within the jurisdiction. However, beginning on January 1, 2020, referendum sponsors in some jurisdictions must obtain a percentage of signatures within geographic areas called “voter participation areas.” If this requirement applies to the sponsors’ jurisdiction (refer to the tables), they should contact their local clerk to determine the boundaries of each area.
Because signature requirements are based on active voters and classifications, the requirements may change regularly. The number of active voters will change every January 1st, and jurisdictions may be reclassified due to population changes. Voter participation areas will also vary depending on the jurisdiction, and their boundaries will be redrawn in 2022 and every ten years thereafter.
Step 2: File an Application with the Local Clerk (Utah Code 20A-7-602)
Referendum applications must be submitted to the clerk before 5:00 pm within seven days after the day on which the local law was passed [refer to Utah Code 20A-7-601(5)(a)].
Sponsors may obtain a referendum application from the local clerk, or they may create their own. If the referendum seeks to refer a county law, sponsors must submit an application to the county clerk. If the referendum seeks to refer a municipal law, they must submit an application to the municipal clerk. The application must include:
- The name, residence address, and notarized signatures of at least five sponsors of the referendum petition.
- A statement indicating that each sponsor is a resident of Utah and has voted in an election in Utah within the last three years. (If the sponsors are unsure whether they have voted in an election in Utah within the last three years, they may contact their county clerk to obtain confirmation.)
- One copy of the ordinance or resolution that the referendum is challenging. If the referendum challenges a local law that is not an ordinance or resolution, the sponsors may include a written description of the local law, including the result of the vote on the local law.
Step 3: Review and Analysis by the Local Government
After the sponsors submit the referendum application, the local government will do the following: (1) write a fiscal and legal impact estimate; and (2) determine whether the referendum can be referred to voters.
(1) Fiscal and Legal Impact Estimate (Utah Code 20A-7-602.5)
Within 3 business days of receiving the application, the local clerk will forward the referendum to the local budget officer. In conjunction with legal counsel, the budget officer will prepare an unbiased, good faith estimate of the fiscal and legal impact of repealing the law. Refer to 20A-7-602.5 for more information on the content of the estimate. The budget officer will prepare it within 20 calendar days of receiving the application, and she or he will deliver it to the clerk’s office and deliver a copy to the first three sponsors listed on the referendum application.
At the same time the budget officer is preparing her or his analysis, the local government will review the referendum and determine whether it is legally referable to voters. The local government may reject it under the following circumstances:
- It is administrative, rather than legislative, in nature;
- It challenges more than one law passed by the local legislative body;
- The application was not timely filed or does not comply with legal requirements.
If the referendum seeks to refer a local land use law, the local government may reject it under the following circumstances:
- It challenges an action that is administrative, rather than legislative, in nature;
- It challenges a land use decision rather than a land use regulation. (These terms are defined by Utah Code 10-9a-103 for municipal governments and Utah Code 17-27a-103 for county governments.)
- It challenges more than one law passed by the local legislative body;
- The application was not timely filed or does not comply with legal requirements.
The local government must make its determination within 20 calendar days of receiving the application. It must notify the first three sponsors listed on the application of its determination. If a local government finds that a proposed law cannot be referred, a sponsor may appeal the decision in court within 10 calendar days after the day they are given notice. Refer to Utah Code 20A-7-602.7(4) or 20A-7-602.8(4) for more information.
Step 4: Proposition Information Pamphlet (Utah Code 20A-7-401.5)
If a local government determines that the referendum is referable to voters, the local government will distribute a proposition information pamphlet. The pamphlet will contain the referendum application, arguments related to the referendum, and the fiscal and legal impact estimate.
Submitting an Argument
Within 15 days after the day on which the referendum application was filed, sponsors may submit an argument in favor of the referendum to the local clerk. The argument cannot exceed 500 words. At the same time, the local government may also write an argument in favor of, or against, the referendum.
Within one business day of receiving an argument, the local clerk will provide a copy of the sponsors’ argument to the local government and vice versa. Both the sponsors and the local government may revise their arguments within 20 days after the day on which the application was filed.
Distributing the Proposition Pamphlet
After the final arguments are submitted, the local clerk will create a proposition information pamphlet and provide it to the sponsors of the referendum and the local government. The clerk will also distribute the pamphlet to voters within the county, municipality, or metro township.
A municipality or metro township will distribute the pamphlet by:
- Emailing it to residents (if the municipality has a resident’s email address and is permitted to use it);
- Posting it on the Utah Public Notice website;
- Posting it on the homepage of the municipality’s website; and
- Providing an internet address where a resident may view the pamphlet on utility bills, newsletters, or other similar materials. If the municipality does not regularly send these materials to residents, this requirement does not apply.
A county will distribute the pamphlet by:
- Emailing it to residents who provided an email address on their voter registration form;
- Posting it on the Utah Public Notice website; and
- Posting it on the homepage of the county’s website.
Obtaining the Petition
If a local government determines that the referendum is legally referable to voters (see Step 3), the local clerk will provide the sponsors with a copy of the referendum petition within 5 calendar days of the determination. The sponsors are responsible for printing and binding the petition.
The petition is typically divided between multiple petition packets. Each packet must contain the following:
- One cover page;
- One copy of the law that is subject to the referendum;
- One copy of the proposition information pamphlet;
- Signature pages (1-50); and
- One circulator verification page.
The packets must be bound across the top in at least three places using staples, stitching, or spiral binding. Packets must be bound before they are circulated, and they cannot be taken apart or rearranged once they are bound. The packets will be rejected if this is done. Refer to Utah Code 20A-7-603 for more information on the formatting of the petition.
Circulating the Petition
Petition circulators must be residents of Utah and at least 18 years old. Refer to Utah Code 20A-2-105 for more information on residency requirements. If a circulator does not meet these requirements, the signatures they gathered are not valid. A circulator does need to be registered to vote; however, the county clerk can easily verify the circulator’s residency and age if she or he is registered to vote. Circulators may be volunteers, or they may be paid.
A circulator must complete and sign the verification sheet of each packet she or he circulates. A circulator cannot sign the signature sheets of any petition packets she or he circulates—she or he must sign a packet of another circulator if she or he wishes to sign the petition. Each petition packet must be used by only one circulator. If there are multiple circulators, they will each need one packet.
Registering Petition Signers to Vote
If an individual wishes to sign the referendum petition but is not registered to vote, the circulator may provide the individual with a voter registration form. Please ensure that the completed voter registration form is submitted to the appropriate county clerk before submitting the petition signature for verification.
Removing a Signature
If an individual wants to remove her or his name from the petition, she or he must submit a statement with the county clerk. County clerks cannot remove signatures from a petition later than 7 days after the day on which the sponsors timely submit the last signature packet to the county clerk. Refer to 20A-7-605 for more information.
Sponsors must submit all petition packets to the county clerk no later than 45 calendar days after the day on which the clerk provided the petition materials in Step 5. However, the sponsors must also send a clear and legible electronic image of a packet to the county clerk within 7 days after the day on which the first individual signs the signature packet. Once the sponsors send a packet’s image, no more signatures may be added to the packet.
If a deadline falls on a weekend or holiday, it will move to the next business day in accordance with Utah Code 20A-1-104(3). Petition packets may not be submitted after deadlines. All petition packets, even those for municipal or metro township referenda, are submitted to the county clerk.
After the sponsors submit the image of a petition packet, the county clerk will verify the signatures using the guidelines outlined by Utah Code 20A-7-606.3. The county clerk will complete the verification of a packet no later than 30 days after receiving it. If it is a municipal or metro township referendum, the county clerk will deliver the verified petition packets to the municipal or metro township clerk.
Sponsors of a referendum challenging a tax rate that exceeds the certified tax rate (refer to Utah Code 59-2-924) must submit the packets to the county clerk no later than 40 calendar days after the day on which the clerk provided the petition materials in Step 5. County clerks will verify petitions within 10 business days. Refer to Utah Code 20A-7-613.
Step 7: Drafting the Ballot Title (Utah Code 20A-7-608)
Within 20 calendar days after the day the referendum petition is submitted, the local government attorney will write a 100 word ballot title that expresses the purpose of the measure. The ballot title must give a true and impartial statement, and it may not intentionally be an argument, or likely to create prejudice, for or against the measure. The local government will also obtain a proposition number (e.g., Proposition #6) from the lieutenant governor’s office.
After completing a draft of the ballot title, the attorney will file it with the clerk. Within 5 calendar days of this filing, the sponsors and the local legislative body may submit comments regarding the ballot title to the clerk. The attorney will review the comments, prepare a final ballot title, and file it with the clerk. Once the ballot title is finalized, the clerk will mail a copy to the sponsors. Three or more sponsors may appeal the ballot title in court. Refer to Utah Code 20A-7-608(6) for more information.
The attorney will draft a ballot title for a referendum challenging a tax rate that exceeds the certified tax rate (refer to Utah Code 59-2-924) within 2 business days after local clerk declares the petition as sufficient (refer to Step 8). Refer to Utah Code 20A-7-613.
Step 8: Evaluation by the Local Clerk (Utah Code 20A-7-607)
After the petition has been verified, or, in the case of municipal or metro township referenda, delivered to the municipal or metro township clerk, the clerk will tabulate the number of valid signatures, compare this amount to the number of required signatures, and declare the petition as either sufficient or insufficient. The local clerk will immediately notify at least one of the sponsors of the declaration.
Step 9: Law is Placed on Hold (Utah Code 20A-7-601)
If a petition is declared sufficient, the local law does not take effect until the voters approve of the local law at an election.
Step 10: Local Voter Information Pamphlet (Utah Code 20A-7-402)
As mentioned in Step 4, the local clerk will distribute a proposition information pamphlet several weeks after the referendum application is filed. If the clerk declares the referendum as sufficient, she or he will distribute a second pamphlet—a voter information pamphlet—to voters 45-15 calendar days before the general election. The voter information pamphlet will contain the following information:
- Arguments that were submitted for the proposition information pamphlet (refer to Step 4);
- Rebuttal arguments (if an argument against the referendum was included in the proposition information pamphlet); and
- The text of the ballot proposition (or a summary if it is over 500 words).
If an argument against the referendum was included in the proposition information pamphlet, the sponsors may submit a rebuttal argument to the local clerk no later than 45 days before the election. The rebuttal may not exceed 250 words. The authors of the opposing argument also have an opportunity to write a rebuttal.
Step 11: Election and Canvassing of Results
The ballot will include the proposition number (e.g., Proposition #6), the ballot title, and the voting choices of FOR and AGAINST. Propositions are placed at the end of the ballot.
Canvassing of Results (Utah Code 20A-7-610)
An election canvass is a public meeting where the local government certifies the final results of the election. A local government may hold its canvass between 7-14 days after the election. The board of canvassers for county referenda is composed of the county legislative body, and the board of canvassers for municipal referenda is composed of the mayor and the municipal legislative body. Refer to Utah Code 20A-4-301.
Immediately after the board of canvassers certifies the results of the election, the local legislative body must issue a proclamation. If the local law was approved by a majority vote, the proclamation will declare that the law is in full force and effect. Conversely, if the local law was rejected by the voters, it is repealed as of the date of the election. Refer to Utah Code 20A-7-613 for more information on how the results of the election affect tax rates for a referendum challenging a tax rate that exceeds the certified tax rate (refer to Utah Code 59-2-924).
Conflicting Laws (Utah Code 20A-7-610)
If two laws are approved by a majority of voters, but the proposed laws, or parts of the proposed laws, are entirely in conflict, only the law that obtains the greatest number of FOR votes — regardless of the difference in the majority — goes into effect.