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 a minimum of 364,000 valid signatures from registered voters, which actually means one would need to collect twice that amount (728,000) to successfully defend against a guaranteed ballot petition signature challenge if the minimum number of signatures were filed.  Additionally, unlike other states, where citizens can propose and pass binding ballot initiatives, in Illinois, ballot initiatives are non-binding, advisory questions, except when amending Article IV of the Illinois Constitution.

But there is an exception!  Annual Township Meetings

Illinois law requires that townships hold at least one public meeting per year, on the second Tuesday in April (April 9th in 2024).  At these meetings, members of the public have the same voting power as the elected township board members; therefore a majority vote of registered township voters in attendance can put a question on the ballot for the next election.  The exception to this is Chicago, which does not have the township structure.

The bar is very low for getting an agenda item added to the Annual Township Meeting agenda proposing to place an advisory question on the ballot. All that is required is a minimum of 15 signatures from registered township voters.  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 (so get at least double the minimum) and submitted on time, turn out supportive township registered voters to the Annual Township Meeting, and advocate to voters in support of your question ahead of the election.

2024 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, neighbors, 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 needed to sign a letter to add a meeting agenda item to propose placing the question on the ballot. In order to survive a signature challenge you should get at least double the minimum (30).

Once you have the question written and your signatures collected, you can finalize everything and turn it in to the Township Clerk starting no later than March 1st.

Townships and Chicago have two different ways for grassroots democracy.

March 1, 2024: 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 9, 2024: Annual Township Meeting (Outside Chicago) Where Questions can be placed on 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 township registered voters in attendance at the meeting.  That means that you need to organize to turn people out for 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 meeting moderator.  The meeting will be run using Robert’s Rules and as such the moderator controls the pace of the meeting, how much time is taken for each agenda item, and even how the votes are counted. An adversarial moderator can exploit Robert’s Rules of Order in order to ram through an agenda item and call for a vote so fast that many attendees won’t even understand what they are voting on.

Now it’s time for the Annual Township Meeting itself.

  • Make sure that your supporters turn out early so that they can be verified as township registered voters which makes them 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 and vote for them to be the moderator.
  • Once the meeting is called to order, nominations will be opened for the position of moderator, have someone nominate your selected moderator and someone second the motion.
  • When it comes time to vote for who will be the moderator, make sure that the count is transparent and verified by your supporters. This vote will be called by a township board member or the board’s legal representative.
  • 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 adversarial moderator.
  • When the moderator gets to your agenda item, the moderator should let all attendees that want to have up to a 3 minutes to comment. When the moderator finally calls for the vote, make sure that the count is transparent and verified by your supporters.


    November 5, 2024: Election Day, When the Question Will Appear on the Ballot

    So your question is on the ballot!  Unfortunately there is no time to rest on your laurels.  A hostile or incompetent township board could lead to your question not being certified with the County Clerk to be on the ballot, despite the fact that the township board was directed to do so at the Annual Township Meeting.  As such, make sure that you attend every subsequent Regular Township Meeting to ensure that the Township Clerk works with the County Clerk to certify 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 advisory question.  You should organize volunteers to write Letters to the Editor, canvass, phonebank, fund raise to purchase yard signs and other campaign costs, distribute yard signs, and other Get Out The Vote (GOTV) activities to ensure that voters are well informed and that your supporters are turning out to vote.  This can be especially effective if you have local candidates who support the question and advocate for it in their GOTV efforts.

    2021-11-13 Presentation: Strategy to Place Advisory Questions on the Ballot via Annual Township Meetings


    Download a Sample Version of a Ranked Choice Voting Township Petition

    View the Slideshow from the Ballot Initiative Workshop