Instructions for a Local Initiative
A local initiative is a petition to propose a new county, municipal, or metro township law. If the initiative collects the required number of signatures, the law is submitted to the voters at an election for their approval or rejection. To place a local initiative on the ballot, the sponsors of an initiative must complete the procedures described below.
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. Initiative applications that were pending prior to May 4, 2021, are subject to older regulations and requirements; contact the local clerk for more information. Please consult Utah State Code Title 20A Chapter 7 Part 5.
Step 1: Determine the Initiative’s Signature Requirement (Utah Code 20A-7-501)
An initiative 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 and the jurisdiction’s classification. 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 requirements.
Click on this link to view a table that outlines the general signature requirements for local initiatives. All initiatives must obtain signatures from a percentage of active voters within the jurisdiction. Beginning on January 1, 2020, initiative 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 table), 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-7-502)
Sponsors may obtain an initiative application from the local clerk, or they may create their own. If the initiative proposes a county law, sponsors must submit an application to the county clerk. If the initiative proposes 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 initiative petition.
- A statement indicating that each sponsor is a registered voter and has voted in an election in Utah in the last three years.
- The full text of the proposed law that includes a title which clearly expresses the subject of the law.
- If the initiative proposes a tax increase, it must include the statement, “This initiative petition seeks to increase the current (insert name of tax) rate by (insert the tax percentage difference) percent, resulting in a(n) (insert the tax percentage increase) percent increase in the current tax rate.”
If the sponsors are unsure whether they meet the voting and voter registration requirements, they may contact their county clerk to obtain confirmation.
Step 3: Review and Analysis by the Local Government
After the sponsors submit the initiative application, the local government will do the following: (1) write a fiscal and legal impact estimate, and (2) determine whether the initiative can be referred to voters.
(1) Fiscal and Legal Impact Estimate (Utah Code 20A-7-502.5)
Within 3 business days of receiving the application, the local clerk will forward the initiative 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 the proposed law. Refer to Utah Code 20A-7-502.5 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 mail a copy to the first three sponsors on the application.
(2) Referability to Voters (Utah Code 20A-7-502.7)
At the same time the budget officer is preparing her or his analysis, the local government will review the proposed law and determine whether it is legally referable to voters. The local government may reject the proposed law under the following circumstances:
- The proposed law contains more than one subject (refer to Article VI, Section 22 of the Utah Constitution);
- Its subject is not clearly expressed in its title;
- It is patently unconstitutional;
- It is nonsensical;
- It is administrative, rather than legislative, in nature;
- It could not become law if it passed;
- It is identical or substantially similar to another initiative application that was submitted to the local clerk within the two years before the day on which the current application was filed; or
- The application of the proposed law 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, the sponsors may appeal the decision in court within 10 calendar days after the day they are given notice. Refer to Utah Code 20A-7-502.7(4) for more information.
Step 4: Proposition Information Pamphlet (Utah Code 20A-7-401.5)
If a local government determines that the initiative is referable to voters, the local government will distribute a proposition information pamphlet. The pamphlet will contain the initiative application, arguments related to the initiative, and the fiscal and legal impact estimate.
Submitting an Argument
Within 15 days after the day on which the initiative application was filed, sponsors may submit an argument in favor of the initiative 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 proposed initiative.
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 initiative 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 on utility bills, newsletters, or other similar materials where a resident may view the pamphlet. 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 an initiative is legally referable to voters (see Step 3), the local clerk will provide the sponsors with a copy of the initiative 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 proposed law;
- 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-7-503 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. Under 20A-7-104, if a circulator is paid to gather signatures, their pay must be based solely on an hourly rate, not per signature. Paid signature gathers are also required to get a badge with an ID number assigned by the local clerk.
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 initiative 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 notarized statement with the county clerk. The statement must be received by the county clerk no later than 7 calendar days after the day on which the sponsors submit the last signature packet to the county clerk.
Step 6: Submit Petition Signatures to the County Clerk (Utah Code 20A-7-506)
Sponsors must deliver each petition packet to the county clerk on or before the sooner of:
- 316 days after the day on which the initiative application was filed; or
- The April 15th immediately before the regular general election (for county initiatives) or the municipal general election (for municipal or metro township initiatives).
If the 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 the deadline. All petition packets, even those for municipal or metro township initiatives, are submitted to the county clerk.
After each petition packet is submitted, the county clerk will verify the signatures using the guidelines provided in Utah Code 20A-7-506.3. The clerk will verify the petition signatures no later than May 15th, but this deadline will move to the next business day if May 15th falls on a weekend or holiday. If it is a municipal or metro township initiative, the county clerk will then deliver the verified petition packets to the municipal or metro township clerk.
Step 7: Drafting the Ballot Title (Utah Code 20A-7-508)
Within 20 calendar days after the day the initiative 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 may review the comments and change the text of the ballot title, but it is not mandatory. Once the ballot title is finalized, the clerk will provide a copy to the sponsors.
Step 8: Evaluation by the Local Clerk (Utah Code 20A-7-507)
After the petition has been verified, or, in the case of municipal or metro township initiatives, 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 the initiative sponsors of the declaration.
If a petition is declared as insufficient, the sponsors may not submit additional signatures to qualify the petition for the ballot.
Step 9: Action of the Local Legislative Body (Utah Code 20A-7-501)
If a petition is declared sufficient, the local clerk will deliver the proposed law to the local legislative body at its next meeting. Within 30 calendar days after the day on which the local legislative body receives the law, it may:
- Adopt the proposed law and refer it to the people at the general election;
- Adopt the proposed law without referring it to the people;
- Reject the proposed law; or
- Adopt a competing law and refer it to the people as well;
If the local legislative body rejects or takes no action on the proposed law, the local clerk will place the initiative on the general election ballot. Unless a special election is called by the local legislative body, a municipal initiative is placed on the municipal general election ballot (odd-years), and a county initiative is placed on the regular general election ballot (even-years).
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 initiative application is filed. If the initiative is declared sufficient, the local clerk 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 initiative was included in the proposition information pamphlet);
- Fiscal and legal impact statement (refer to Step 3);
- A statement describing a tax increase (if the initiative proposes a tax increase); and
- The text of the proposed initiative (or a summary if it is over 500 words).
If an argument against the initiative was included in the proposition information pamphlet, the initiative 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-7-510)
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 initiatives is composed of the county legislative body, and the board of canvassers for municipal initiatives is composed of the mayor and the municipal legislative body (refer to Utah Code 20A-4-301).
Proclamation (Utah Code 20A-7-510)
Immediately after the board of canvassers certifies the results of the election, the local legislative body must issue a proclamation. If the initiative was approved by a majority vote, the proclamation will declare that the proposed law is in full force and effect.
Conflicting Initiatives (Utah Code 20A-7-510)
If two initiatives 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.
Step 12: Effective Date (Utah Code 20A-7-511)
Unless the initiative specifies an effective date, an initiative takes effect 5 calendar days after the date of the official proclamation.
Step 13: Final Fiscal Review (Utah Code 20A-7-513)
No later than 60 calendar days after the voters approve an initiative, the local budget officer must complete another fiscal review. After completing the statement, the budget officer will provide a copy to the first five initiative sponsors.
If the fiscal impact statement exceeds the initial fiscal impact estimate by 25% or more, the local legislative body must review the updated statement and may:
- Repeal the law established by the initiative;
- Amend the law established by the initiative;
- Pass a resolution informing voters that they may file an initiative petition to repeal the law enacted by the initiative.