Skip to main content

Recalls, Measures and Initiatives

Qualifying a Ballot Measure by Petition FAQs

There are different rules for qualifying State, County, City, and District initiative or referendums for the ballot.  Division 9 of the California Elections Code will govern procedures and references to other legal requirements contained within the Elections Code, Government Code and other governing laws. The Registrar of Voters has also prepared a helpful guide for the county initiative process that you can download above.

Please contact the following offices for more information:

  • State Measures (Division 9, Chapter 1) – Secretary of State’s Elections Division (916) 657-2166
  • County Measures (Division 9, Chapter 2) – Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters (408) 299-8683 [VOTE]
  • City Measures (Division 9, Chapter 3 – Contact your City Clerk
  • Special District Measures (Division 9, Chapter 4) – District Clerk, or if the District has no Clerk, contact the Registrar of Voters

The easiest possible way to remember the difference between the two are to think of an initiative as your desire to initiate a new law, or a change in a law that is already in place.  A referendum is submitted when people have a desire to prevent a new law or change from taking effect and has more of an urgency factor. In general, the referendum petition must be submitted before the law takes effect, which can be anywhere from 30 – 60 days from the date the law was adopted. 

The “proponent” is the person or group that has initiated the petition process by submitting the proposed text of the state initiative or referendum  with a request for the Attorney General to prepare a title and summary for the petition, or the person or persons who publish a Notice of Intent to circulate the petition, or if none required, those who file the petitions with the elections official or legislative body.

Depending on the type of petition (initiative or referendum) and jurisdiction (state, county or city), there may be a fee required. The fee is generally associated with an initiative petition and request to prepare the title and summary. The fee paid to the Attorney General for a state petition is set by Elections Code Section 9001 at $2,000, while the fee for a city or county initiative cannot exceed $200. The $50 fee for a countywide initiative is set by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors under Charter Section A11-8.

Please contact your City Clerk or special District Clerk for information on filing fees associated with city or special district initiatives.

Before you create and circulate any initiative or recall petition, you must first file a Notice of Intention, including a request for a ballot title and summary, and publicize the notice in an adjudicated newspaper of general circulation within the county, city or district where the voters can easily access it and read about the petition. Generally, the notice for an initiative petition must include the text of the proposed initiative and can contain up to 500 words that explain the purpose of or reason for your initiative to the people who may sign it. The notice for a recall must contain the reasons for the recall petition, including the name and title of the officer sought, and has no word limit. All notices of intention must be accompanied by the names and signatures of each proponent.

You are responsible for following State guidelines for creating your initiative, referendum or recall petition. You may request to see samples of other petitions submitted to the Registrar of Voters before you make the petition. The Registrar of Voters cannot offer advice or assistance with creating your petition and there is no requirement to receive pre-approval for your petition before collecting signatures (except for petitions to recall an elected official). Please see California Elections Code Division 0.5, Chapter 2 for petition and petition circulator and signer requirements. 

Any petitions required of candidates seeking elective office will be provided by the Candidate Services Division or your City Clerk.

The number of signatures is based upon the number of voters registered in and type of the jurisdiction you plan on creating the proposed law for and whether you are collecting signatures for an initiative or referendum.

The following chart for county and city petitions may help:


Next regular statewide election date:  10% of the entire vote cast within the County for all candidates for Governor at the last gubernatorial election preceding the publication of the notice of intention.


City’s next regular election date:  10% of the total number of voters in a city with greater than 1,000 registered voters.




25% of the total number of voters, or 100 voters in a city that has 1,000 or fewer registered voters.


CalculationBased upon the number of votes for all candidates running for Governor at the last election occurring before the publication of the notice of intent.Based upon the latest report of registration made by the county to the Secretary of State that occurred before the publication of the notice of intent.

Note: The above chart does not apply to county or city bonds under a Joint Powers entity, nor does it apply to charter amendments. If your proposal is to amend a charter, there may be additional requirements and you should contact the Candidate Services Division (CSD) or your City Clerk if it is for a city charter.

For information on statewide initiatives or amendments to the California Constitution, please contact the Secretary of State’s Elections Division at (916) 657-2166.

The answer again depends upon what jurisdiction in which you wish to propose a law, as well as the type of petition you are circulating.  You may begin to collect signatures after the publication of the ballot title and summary given to you, which was prepared by the county counsel/city attorney.  The following chart may help:

InitiativeSignatures secured and presented within 180 days from the date of receipt of the title and summary.Signatures secured and presented within 180 days from the date of receipt of the title and summary.
ReferendumSignatures secured and presented within 30-60 days from the date the Board of Supervisors first adopted the ordinance. This timeline will depend on the type of and approval rules for the action item under the referenda.Signatures secured and presented within 30 days from the date of the City Council first adopted the ordinance.

Yes. However, for those voters to have their signatures qualify on the petition, their voter registration form must be submitted prior to or with the petition. There are important rules and guidelines to follow when registering voters, such as completing the area on the form indicating your assistance and submitting that completed form to the Registrar of Voters within the legally mandated timeframe. The Secretary of State or the Registrar of Voters can provide you the information and requirements.

The Voter Registration Division has prepared a helpful flyer to walk a voter through the steps to register to vote. Ask for a copy when you obtain voter registration forms.

The general timeframe for verifying and certification of an initiative, referendum or recall petition is 30 business-days from the day the petition is filed, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.

There are some exceptions to the general timeframe, however. Under the California Education Code, petitions submitted to request a special election to fill a vacancy on a school board, under Education Code Section 5091, and petitions submitted to reorganize a school district under Education Code Section 35704 are verified within a 30-calendar day period.

Candidate nomination documents such as petitions submitted in-lieu of paying a filing fee or nomination petitions are verified as soon as possible upon filing, or at minimum, must be completed within 10-days of being submitted.  If the nomination papers are for a candidate seeking state or federal office, the nomination papers must be verified and forwarded to the Secretary of State within five days. In the case of a special election, nomination papers must be verified within three (3) days of being filed, or if the Secretary of State sets a nomination period that is less than 11-days, the Secretary will notify all counties of the verification deadlines.

Unfortunately, no.  California Government Code Section 6253.5 protects the voter information on petitions from being public record. The information can only be made available to the proponents of the petition if the petition fails to qualify.

See also, “If my petition fails to qualify for the ballot, can I review the petition for the reasons why?”

Yes. A voter who has signed an initiative, referendum, or local recall (county officer, city officer, school district board, etc.) petition, and who wishes their signature be removed, or withdrawn, must make a request in writing. The request must include the voter’s name, residence address and signature. This written request must be filed in the elections official’s office prior to the date the petition is filed. If this is a city petition, the request must be filed with the City Clerk, who is the election official for the city.

A voter who wishes to have their signature removed or withdrawn from a state recall petition has up to 30 days after the petition is certified to file their written request. The request must include the voter’s name, residence address and signature and is filed in the election officials’ office that is in charge of the petition.

Yes. Only if the initiative or referendum petition fails to qualify for the ballot, and only the official proponents are able to review the failed petition. The request to review the failed petition must be received by the Registrar of Voters within 21 days of certification and notice of failure.

There is more than one answer for this question and will depend upon the type of petition (initiative or referendum), whether a request for a special election is included, and/or if the ordinance is required to be submitted to the voters sooner, such as a charter proposal. California Elections Code Division 1, Chapter 5 can offer more information.

In general, if an initiative petition has been certified (has enough signatures), the county, city or district may do one of the following:

(1) Adopt the ordinance, without alteration, either at the regular meeting at which the certification of the petition is presented, or within 10 days after it is presented.


(2) Submit the ordinance, without alteration, to the voters pursuant to Section 1405.


(3) At the meeting when the certification of the petition is presented, order a report on the impact of the initiative, after which the initiative is either adopted without alteration or submitted to the voters according to (2) above.

Prior to each election, the Registrar of Voters issues a calendar of important deadlines to be aware of that relate to the submission of important documents relating to the election. If you wish to submit arguments in favor of or against a city measure, please contact the City Clerk.

Primary arguments in favor of or against a ballot measure, and the subsequent rebuttal arguments are submitted in person and must accompany the names and signatures of each author and/or signer on the required Form Statement found in Elections Code Section 9600. Primary arguments can include up to 300-words and be titled, “Argument in Favor of Measure___” or “Argument Against Measure __” and rebuttal arguments can include up to 250-words and be titled, “Rebuttal to Argument in Favor of Measure ___” or “Rebuttal to Argument Against Measure ___”. The text of the required Form Statement and printed names of the signors are not counted towards the word-limit.

Please contact the Fair Political Practices Commission for the latest campaign finance forms and regulations. By visiting their website you can learn about rules and regulations that apply to your committee, access all forms, and find a workshop or request individual advice.


Advice Line: (866) ASK-FPPC [866-275-3772]

General Telephone: (916) 322-5660

Email: [email protected]

The County of Santa Clara has enacted an ordinance requiring all committees to electronically file campaign statement forms. When you submit your initial committee organization forms (FPPC Form 410), the Candidate Services Division will contact you with information on how to log in and file electronically.

If your committee is raising and spending money for a city measure, your campaign finance forms will be filed with the City Clerk.

In general, no, the Political Reform Act does not limit the total amount a ballot measure committee may raise or spend.

Yes. Petitions may be withdrawn by the proponent at any time before they are filed. The simplest way is to ignore or miss the legal deadline to submit any of the required paperwork (proof of legal notices or the petition itself).

Also, the proponent of an initiative may withdraw the initiative at any time before the 88th day before the targeted election, even if the petition has already been found to have a sufficient number of signatures as determined by the Registrar of Voters or other elections official. That date is important because that is also the last date for the governing body of the jurisdiction (county, district or city) to call the elections for the proposed measure and file a request with the county for election services.