If you’re old enough to vote, you’ve probably been asked to sign a petition. Petitions provide citizens with the power to make new laws and overturn existing ones.
There are two major types of statewide petitions in Missouri: Initiative petitions allow people to propose an amendment to the Missouri Constitution, or a completely new law. Referendum petitions address whether or not an existing law should be maintained.
The procedure for petitioning is specified in the constitution and statutes of Missouri and consists of six general steps:
- The petitioner files a copy of the sample petition with the secretary of state, who forwards copies to the attorney general and the state auditor. The secretary of state and the attorney general approve or reject the petition, and the state auditor prepares a fiscal summary of how much money the measure would cost or make for the state.
- The petitioner circulates petitions. Each person asking for signatures must be at least 18 years old and registered with the secretary of state.
Because petitioning is considered to be a freedom of speech issue, petitioners may collect signatures almost anywhere. However, petitioners may be asked to comply with the policies of public institutions. Private businesses have the right to ask petitioners to leave their property.
In order to compel an election, an initiative petition proposing an amendment must be signed by 8 percent of registered voters in two-thirds of the state’s congressional districts. An initiative petition proposing a new law or a referendum petition must be signed by 5 percent of registered voters in two-thirds of the congressional districts.
- The petitioner delivers the petitions to the secretary of state. This must be done at least six months before the election.
- Copies of the petition are made and sent to local election authorities.
- Local election authorities must verify the petition signatures. This can be done by verifying each signature or a random sampling, as directed by the secretary of state.
- If the secretary of state determines that the petition has enough valid signatures, a certificate of sufficiency is issued. If the petition is found insufficient, a certificate stating the reasons for insufficiency is issued. If a petition is found to be sufficient, the issue will be put on the ballot for voters to decide.
City of Springfield petitions
As outlined in the City Charter, residents of the City of Springfield have the power to propose new ordinances with initiative petitions, approve or reject existing ordinances with referendum petitions, and decide whether elected city officials should be removed from office with recall petitions.
Both initiative and referendum petitions must be signed by enough Springfield voters to equal at least 10 percent of the total voters in the last April municipal election. If the city clerk certifies a petition as sufficient, then the city council has 30 days to pass an ordinance proposed in an initiative petition or repeal an ordinance proposed in a referendum petition. If the council decides not to pass or repeal the ordinance as proposed in the petition, the issue will go on the ballot for voters to decide on.
A recall petition must be signed by enough Springfield voters to equal at least 30 percent of the total votes cast in the last election for the office. If the city clerk certifies the recall petition, the city council will determine a date to hold the recall election.
Want to know more?
A publication on the secretary of state’s website called “Make Your Voice Heard: Missouri’s Initiative Petition Process and the Fair Ballot Access Act ” [pdf] provides a detailed explanation of the petition process in Missouri.
The City Charter on the City of Springfield website provides a complete explanation of the petition process.
The following news articles provide updates on petition processes and laws as well as controversy surrounding this topic:
- "Mo. auditor halts fiscal estimates for initiatives," STLtoday.com, April 20, 2012
- "Mo. auditor to appeal ruling on tax initiative," CBS News, April 19, 2012
- "Group vows to fight for proposal to abolish state income tax," OzarksFirst.com, April 18, 2012
- "Pastors push petitions to cap payday loan interest, raise minimum wage," OzarksFirst.com, April 18, 2012
- "Good riddance to plan to wipe out Missouri income tax," Kansas City Star, April 17, 2012
- "Editorial: Missouri needs to rein in chaos in initiative petition process," STLtoday.com, April 12, 2012
- "48 initiative petitions circulating across the state," St. Joseph News-Press Now, April 7, 2012
- "Committee considers changes to initiative petition rules," Springfield News-Leader, April 3, 2012
- "Proposed changes to city charter could get vote in coming weeks," OzarksFirst.com, April 3, 2012
Voting Matters is a series of articles written by Library staff to provide information and resources during the 2012 political season.