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Initiative and Referendum Process

Initiative and Referendum Process

Do you want to file a petition to put an initiative, referendum, or City Charter Amendment on the ballot? Review the information below to learn about the process. 

Notice: These guides are for informational and guidance purposes only. They are not intended to provide legal advice. The City Clerk’s Office does not, and cannot, advise on the overall petition process. Petition coordinators and any persons seeking legal advice should consult with a private attorney.

Initiatives, referenda, and charter amendments are filed with the City Clerk’s office. For recently-filed and past initiatives, referenda, and charter amendments, or general questions (other than legal advice), contact the City Clerk’s Office.


General Resources:

Initiative Petition Process

Citizens of the City of Tacoma may ask the voters to approve or reject ordinances or amendments to existing ordinances, subject to any limitation on topics in state law, through the initiative petition process. 

 

Notice: These guides are for informational and guidance purposes only. They are not intended to provide legal advice. The City Clerk’s Office does not, and cannot, advise on the overall petition process. Petition coordinators and any persons seeking legal advice should consult with a private attorney. 

 

Resources to Review

 

Before you begin, review the 'general resources' at the top of this page.

    Filing a Petition

     

    Citizens of Tacoma may by initiative petition ask the voters to approve or reject ordinances or amendments to existing ordinances, subject to any limitation on topics in state law, by the following process (see Charter Section 2.19-2.23):

     

    (a)  The petitioners shall file an Initiative Petition with the City Clerk.

    File the full text of the proposed petition with the City Clerk, as well as the petition contact person’s name, address, phone number, and email address. 

    (b)  The City Clerk shall forward the petition to the City Attorney within one (1) working day of receipt.  


    Review of Petition and Preparation of Ballot Title

     

    (c)  Within ten (10) working days of receipt, the City Attorney shall review the petition and make contact with the petitioner as necessary, and if the petition is proper in terms of form and style, the City Attorney will write a concise, true, and impartial statement of the purpose of the measure, not to exceed the number of words as allowed under state law for local initiatives. The statement will be phrased in the form of a positive question.

     

    (d) The City Attorney shall file this concise statement with the City Clerk as the official ballot title.

     

    (e) The City Clerk shall assign an initiative number to the ballot title and notify the petitioner that the ballot title becomes final and signature gathering may begin in ten (10) working days if there is no judicial review. Notification of the ballot title shall be posted at City Hall and on the City’s web page.

     

    (f) Persons dissatisfied with the ballot title prepared by the City Attorney may seek judicial review by petitioning the Pierce County Superior Court within ten (10) working days of the notification of the ballot title having been posted as required under (e). The Court shall endeavor to promptly review the statements and render a decision as expeditiously as possible. The decision of the Court is final.

     

    Gathering and Submitting Signatures

     

    (g)  Petitions must include the final approved ballot title, initiative number, the full text of the ordinance, or amendment to existing ordinance, that the petitioners seek to refer to the voters, and all other text and warnings required by state law.

     

    (h)  Petitioners have one hundred and eighty (180) calendar days to collect signatures from registered voters.

     

    (i)  The number of valid signatures shall be equal to ten percent (10%) of the votes cast in the last election for the office of Mayor.

     

    It is recommend that petitioners contact the City Clerk’s Office prior to the deadline to arrange a time to submit signatures.

     

    (j)  The City Clerk shall forward the signatures to the County Auditor to be verified. Based on the Auditor’s review, the City Clerk shall determine the validity of the petition.

     

    Referral to City Council

     

    If the petition is validated, the City Council may enact or reject the Initiative, but shall not modify it. If it rejects the Initiative or within thirty (30) calendar days fails to take final action on it, the City Council shall submit the proposal to the people at the next Municipal or General Election that is not less than ninety (90) days after the date on which the signatures on the petition are validated.

     

    Any ordinance initiated or referred may be submitted to the qualified electors for their approval or rejection at a special municipal election to be called in the manner provided by law for the submission of questions or propositions to the qualified electors (Section 2.21).

     

    The Council by its own motion may submit any proposed ordinance to the qualified electors for their approval or rejection in the same manner as provided for its submission upon petition (Section 2.22).
     

    Election Results

     

    If a majority of the qualified electors voting upon any ordinance initiated or referred shall vote in favor thereof, the same shall take effect ten days after the certification of the result of the election thereof or at the time fixed therein; provided, that if the provisions of two or more proposed ordinances approved at the same election are inconsistent, the provisions of the ordinance receiving the highest vote shall prevail (Section 2.23).

     

    Any ordinance initiated or referred failing of such majority shall be rejected (Section 2.23).

     

    All initiative and referendum elections shall be conducted and publication of the proposed ordinance shall be had in the same manner as elections submitting questions or propositions to the qualified electors (Section 2.23).

     

    Referendum Process

    Citizens may ask ordinances approved by the City Council be referred to the voters for approval or rejection (with the exception of ordinances which take effect immediately or that otherwise are prohibited by state law). 

    Notice: These guides are for informational and guidance purposes only. They are not intended to provide legal advice. The City Clerk’s Office does not, and cannot, advise on the overall petition process. Petition coordinators and any persons seeking legal advice should consult with a private attorney.

    Resources to Review

     

    Before you begin, review the 'general resources' at the top of this page.

    Filing a Referendum 
     

    Citizens of Tacoma may ask that ordinances passed by the City Council, except for ordinances which take effect immediately as allowed in Section 2.13 of the Charter, or as otherwise prohibited by state law, be referred to the voters for approval or rejection by the following process (see Charter Section 2.20 – 2.23):

     

    (a) The petitioners shall file a Referendum Petition with the City Clerk not later than ten (10) calendar days after the City Council approved the ordinance.

     

    File the full text of the proposed petition with the City Clerk, as well as the petition contact person's name, address, phone number, and email address.

     

    (b) The filing of a Referendum Petition, and progression by the petitioners through the steps outlined as follows, causes the suspension of the effective date of the ordinance

     

    Review of Petition and Preparation of Ballot Title

     

    (c) The City Clerk shall forward the petition to the City Attorney within one (1) working day of receipt.

    (d) Within ten (10) working days of receipt, the City Attorney shall review the petition and make contact with the petitioner as necessary, and if the petition is proper in terms of form and style, the City Attorney will write a concise, true, and impartial statement of the purpose of the measure, not to exceed the number of words as allowed under state law for local referendums. The statement will be phrased in the form of a positive question.

    (e) The City Attorney shall file this concise statement with the City Clerk as the official ballot title.

    (f) The City Clerk shall assign a referendum number to the ballot title and notify the petitioner that the ballot title becomes final and signature gathering may begin in ten (10) working days if there is no judicial review. Notification of the ballot title shall be posted at City Hall and on the City’s web page.

    (g) Persons dissatisfied with the ballot title prepared by the City Attorney may seek judicial review by petitioning Pierce County Superior Court within ten (10) working days of the notification of the ballot title having been posted as required under (f). The Court shall endeavor to promptly review the statements and render a decision as expeditiously as possible. The decision of the Court is final.

     

    Gathering and Submitting Signatures

     

    (h)   Petitions must include the final approved ballot title, referendum number, the full text of the ordinance that the petitioners seek to refer to the voters, and all other text and warnings required by state law

     

    (i)   Petitioners have thirty (30) calendar days to collect signatures from registered voters.

     

    (j)   The number of valid signatures shall be equal to ten percent (10%) of the votes cast in the last election for the office of Mayor.

     

    We recommend petitioners contact the City Clerk’s Office prior to the deadline to arrange a time to submit signatures.

     

    (k)  The City Clerk shall forward the signatures to the County auditor to be verified. Based on the Auditor’s review, the City Clerk shall determine the validity of the petition. 

     

    Referral to City Council

     

    If the petition is validated, the City Council shall immediately reconsider the ordinance, and if it does not repeal the ordinance, submit the proposal to the people at the next Municipal or General Election that is not less than ninety (90) days after the date on which the signatures on the petition are validated.

     

    Any ordinance initiated or referred may be submitted to the qualified electors for their approval or rejection at a special municipal election to be called in the manner provided by law for the submission of questions or propositions to the qualified electors (Section 2.21).

     

    The Council by its own motion may submit any proposed ordinance to the qualified electors for their approval or rejection in the same manner as provided for its submission upon petition (Section 2.22).

     

    Election Results

     

    If a majority of the qualified electors voting upon any ordinance initiated or referred shall vote in favor thereof, the same shall take effect ten days after the certification of the result of the election thereof or at the time fixed therein; provided, that if the provisions of two or more proposed ordinances approved at the same election are inconsistent, the provisions of the ordinance receiving the highest vote shall prevail (Section 2.23).

     

    Any ordinance initiated or referred failing of such majority shall be rejected (Section 2.23).

     

    All initiative and referendum elections shall be conducted and publication of the proposed ordinance shall be had in the same manner as elections submitting questions or propositions to the qualified electors (Section 2.23).

     

     

    Charter Amendments

    Amendments to the City of Tacoma Charter may be submitted to the voters by the City Council or by initiative petition of the voters in the manner provided by the state constitution and laws. (Charter Section 2.18). See the Initiative Petitions process, above.

    Per RCW 35.22.120, charter amendments require fifteen (15) percent of the total number of votes cast at the last preceding general state election of qualified voters, and the charter amendment must be submitted only at the next regular municipal election.