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Initiative Process & Definitions

The Initiative Process

1. A person, group or organization drafts an initiative.

2. This initiative is submitted to the Attorney General of California's Office along with a check for $200 and a request that "Title and Summary" be prepared.

3. A summary of estimate by the Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance on the fiscal impact of the measure on state and local governments and included in the official "Title and Summary".

4. The proponents are then notified that "Title and Summary" have been prepared.

5. A petition is submitted to the secretary of state.

6. The secretary of state approves a petition for circulation. Petitions must meet certain criteria, including that they do not address more than one subject.

7. The clock starts running on a 150-day deadline to gather enough signatures from registered voters. It is legal to pay to have signatures gathered.

8. Signatures are submitted to the secretary of state. To qualify an initiative for the ballot, valid signatures must at least equal 5 percent of the total who voted in the last gubernatorial election. The qualifying number rises to 8 percent for inititiatives that are written into the constitution.

9. The secretary of state submits the measure at the next general election held at least 131 days after it qualifies or at any special statewide election held prior to that general election. The governor may call a special statewide election for the measure.

10. A measure approved by a majority of votes takes effect the day after the election unless the measure states otherwise. Courts sometimes block an initiative from becoming law.

11. If two measures that conflict are passed at the same election, the measure with the greater number of votes goes into effect.

12. The Legislature may amend or repeal statutes by another statute that is effective only when approved by the electors unless the measure in question waives this.

The laws governing initiatives and referendums are found in the California State Constitution in Article II, Sections 8, 9, 10, and 11.


INITIATIVE is a process by which a small percentage of voters may propose legislation and compel officials to submit the proposed legislation to the people. It involves the power of the people to propose bills and laws and to enact or reject them at the polls, independent of legislative assembly.

In contrast, REFERENDUM is the right of the people to have submitted for their approval or rejection an act passed by the Legislature. REFERENDUM is a process by which a small percentage of voters may delay effective legislation and compel officials to submit to for voter approval or rejection.

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