Township Questions, Get Your Issues on the Ballot!

Generally, it is very difficult to get citizens ballot initiatives before voters in Illinois. In order to get a statewide citizens initiative on the ballot, supporters must gather signatures equal to 8% of the voters in the last general election.  In 2020, that meant collecting 364,000 valid signatures from registered voters.  Additionally, unlike other states, where citizens can propose and pass binding ballot initiatives, in Illinois, ballot initiatives are non-binding, advisory questions.

But there is an exception!  Township meetings.

Illinois law requires that townships hold at least one public meeting per year, on the second Tuesday in April. (April 11 in 2022)  At these meetings, members of the public have the same voting power as the township committee members.  At this meeting, a majority vote of those in attendance can put a question on the ballot for the next election.

The bar for getting a ballot initiative put on a Regular or Special Township Meeting agenda is very low, at 15 signatures from residents of the township.  But that’s just the beginning.  In order to get your question on the ballot you will have to make sure that your signatures are valid and submitted on time, turn out supporters to the Township Meeting in order to get your question on the ballot, and advocate to voters in support of your question ahead of the election.

2022 Township Referendum Timeline

Now: Planning and Organizing

The first step in getting a question on the ballot is to figure out what your question will be.  Talk with your friends and local organizers to formulate a question that is important to you and will resonate in your community.

Once you have your question formulated, you need to collect the signatures of a minimum of 15 registered township voters need to sign a letter to add a meeting agenda item to propose placing the question on the ballot.

Once you have the question written and your signatures collected, you can finalize everything and turn it in to the Township Clerk starting on DATE.

SAMPLE COVER LETTER
SAMPLE QUESTION

March 1, 2022: Deadline to Turn in Ballot Questions to the Township Clerk

While March 1 is the final day, you would be well served not waiting until the last day to submit your question to the Township Clerk.

When you turn in your signatures, be sure to get a time and date stamped receipt from the Township Clerk, this way there can be no question that your agenda item was properly submitted.

April 11, 2022: Township Meeting Where Questions are Selected for the Ballot

Getting your question on the agenda is just the first step in getting it on the ballot!  In order to get on the ballot, your question has to garner a majority support of verified township voters in attendance at the meeting.  That means that you need to organize to turn people out to the meeting to vote for your question.

In addition to turning out voters to support your question, you should identify and prepare a candidate to be the moderator of the meeting.  The meeting will be run using Robert’s Rules and as such the moderator can have a good amount of control over the meeting, what agenda items are heard when, and even counting the vote.

Now it’s time for the Township Meeting itself.

  • Make sure that your supporters turn out early so that they can be verified as township voters and eligible to vote in the meeting.
  • Make sure that your moderator candidate is prepared to effectively run the meeting and your supporters know to support their nomination. 
  • Once the meeting is called for order, nominations will be open for the position of moderator, have someone nominate your selected moderator.
  • If you do not get your moderator selected, make sure you have a firm understanding of Robert’s Rules so that you can push back against an unfriendly moderator.
  • When it comes time to vote, make sure that the count is transparent and verified by your supporters.

SAMPLE TOWNSHIP MEETING FLIER

June 28, 2022: Primary Election Day, When the Question Will Appear on the Ballot

So your question is on the ballot?  You cannot rest on your laurels.  A hostile or incompetent county board could lead to your question not being on the ballot, despite the fact that it should be.  As such, make sure that you attend every Regular Township Meeting to ensure that, the Township Clerk works with the County Clerk to make sure that the question is on the ballot.  You should familiarize yourself with election deadlines and make sure that the Township Clerk is not missing deadlines. 

In addition to making sure that your question is actually placed on the ballot, you will need to carry out an advocacy campaign for your ballot initiative.  You should be having supporters writing Letters to the Editor, canvassing, phonebanking, and other GOTV activities to ensure that voters are well informed and that your supporters are turning out.  This can be especially effective if you have local candidates who support the question and advocate for it in their GOTV efforts. 

SAMPLE SCRIPT
SAMPLE ELECTION DAY FLIER

 

Watch Our Ballot Initiative Workshop

View the Slideshow from the Ballot Initiative Workshop