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Auditor Mary Hull Caballero

Promoting open and accountable government

Initiative Process

 Step One - Filing Prospective Petition

The first step in referring an initiative petition to a vote of the people is to file a prospective petition with the City Elections Officer, located in the Office of the City Auditor.  An initiative petition may also be filed online by emailing the required forms (see contact information on the City elections website).

A prospective petition shall consist of:

  • SEL 370, prospective petition completed and signed by chief petitioners designating circulator pay status, no more than three (3) chief petitioners, and the intended election date for the petition; and
  • Complete text of the proposed charter change or ordinance to be initiated (legislation). It is recommended that petitioners consult legal assistance in drafting legislation according to legal specifications. The City Elections Officer can provide guidance regarding the formatting of the legislation, not content. Please see Appendix F for more information regarding format requirements of legislation.

Petitioners may also:

  • Submit a draft ballot title, including caption, question and explanation. This draft title must be submitted at the same time as the SEL 370 prospective petition filing. A City Attorney will prepare the final ballot title;
  • Authorize individuals to act on their behalf in most matters regarding the petition process by completing and filing form SEL 307 Agent Authorization; and
  • Establish a campaign account and file a Statement of Organization designating a treasurer with the Elections Division of the Secretary of State’s Office. NOTE: It is required that the City Elections Officer confirm that a campaign committee has been established with the Secretary of State prior to signature sheet approval.

All required and optional forms for the prospective petition are included in Appendix B of the City's initiative petition packet.

On the SEL 370 petitioners must specify the election date for which their initiative is intended. This date must be a biennial statewide primary or general election within two years and four months of the filing of the prospective petition.

Please Note:  City Code Section 2.04.040 requires that chief petitioners be registered voters in the City of Portland.

Step Two - Procedural Requirements

No later than five (5) business days after receiving the prospective petition, the City Elections Officer reviews the text of the proposed legislation to determine whether it complies with the procedural constitutional requirements. After the review, the City Elections Officer notifies the chief petitioners of the determination.

If the text of the proposed legislation does not comply with the procedural constitutional requirements, the City Elections Officer notifies the chief petitioners in writing by certified mail (return receipt requested). This notice must be mailed no later than six (6) business days after the prospective initiative petition is filed.

If the text of the proposed legislation complies with the procedural constitutional requirements, the City Elections Officer notifies the chief petitioners in writing no later than six (6) business days after the prospective initiative petition is filed and forwards the petition to the City Attorney for preparation of the ballot title.  

Any registered voter of the City of Portland who disagrees with the constitutional requirements determination can challenge it in Circuit Court by:

  • The seventh (7th) business day after the determination is made if the text does not comply; OR
  • The seventh (7th) business day after the ballot title is filed with the Elections Officer if it does comply.

Step Three - Preparation of Ballot Title

If the City Elections Officer determines that the prospective petition meets the procedural constitutional requirements, the City Elections Officer forwards two (2) copies of the petition to the City Attorney for preparation of the ballot title no later than six (6) business day after the prospective petition is filed.

The City Attorney has five (5) business days to prepare a ballot title and return it to the City Elections Officer. Oregon law requires that the ballot title contain all of the following elements:

  • Caption:  not to exceed 10 words; must reasonably identify the subject of the prospective initiative petition;
  • Question:  not to exceed 20 words; must plainly phrase the chief purpose of the prospective initiative so that an affirmative response corresponds to a yes vote on the ballot; and
  • Summary: not to exceed 175 words; shall be concise and impartial and summarize the measure and its major effect.

Step Four - Publication of Notice of Receipt of Ballot Title

Upon receipt of the ballot title from the City Attorney, the Auditor immediately provides the chief petitioner with a copy of the ballot title. The Auditor also publishes a notice of receipt of the ballot title in the next available edition of the Oregonian and posts the notice on the City website. The notice must include:

  • a statement that the petition meets the procedural constitutional requirements;
  • a notice than an elector may file a petition to review the ballot title;
  • the deadline for filing a petition to review the ballot title with the Circuit Court; and
  • the ballot title provided by the City Attorney or information on how to obtain a copy of the ballot title.

Any elector who is dissatisfied with the ballot title may petition the Circuit Court to review the ballot title issued by the City Attorney. The deadline to file a petition to review the ballot title is no later than the seventh (7th) business day after the City Elections Officer received the ballot title from the City Attorney.

 Step Five - Challenge Period

As detailed in Step Four, any elector who is dissatisfied with the ballot title may petition the Circuit Court to review the ballot title issued by the City Attorney.  The petition must name the City Attorney as the respondent.  The petition must also state the reasons the title filed with the court is insufficient, not concise or unfair.  The deadline to file a petition to review the ballot title is no later than the seventh (7th) business day after the City Elections Officer received the ballot title from the City Attorney.

If an elector files a petition to review a ballot title within the Circuit Court, the elector must also notify the city elections official in writing that the petition has been filed.


! WARNING - If this notice to the City Elections Officer is not timely filed, the petition to the Circuit Court will be dismissed.


After a petition to review a ballot title is filed, the Circuit Court conducts its review.  The review of the ballot title by the Circuit Court shall be the first and final review.

After reviewing the ballot title, the Circuit Court renders its decision and certifies a ballot title meeting the requirements of ORS 250.035 to the City Elections Officer.


The City Elections Officer must not approve the cover and signature sheets for circulation until after the challenge period for the ballot title, or, if the ballot title is challenged, after the Circuit Court order is received by the City Elections Officer.


Step Six - Preparation of Cover & Signature Sheets

After receiving the final ballot title, the chief petitioners may begin the cover and signature sheet approval process.

The City Elections Officer cannot approve cover and signature sheets for circulation until the Statement of Organization for Petition Committee (SEL 222) and Campaign Account Information (SEL 223) have been filed with the Secretary of State. The City Elections Officer will contact the Secretary of State to confirm these filings.

The text, cover and signature sheets for a prospective initiative petition must be approved in writing by the City Elections Officer before the chief petitioners may begin circulating the petition. The chief petitioners must comply with specific detailed requirements when preparing their cover and signature sheets. Failure to comply with the requirements in Appendix C of this packet will delay the receipt of written approval to circulate.

After preparing the cover and signature sheets for the prospective initiative petition, the chief petitioners submit a draft to the City Elections Officer for review.  If the text of the prospective initiative is not printed on the cover sheet, a complete copy of the text must also be submitted with the draft cover and signature sheets.  Cover and signature sheets may only be submitted for approval by a chief petitioner or authorized agent, either by email or in person.

See Appendix C in the City initiative packet for Signature and Cover Sheet Requirements and examples and Appendix E for Guidelines for Circulating Petitions.

After receiving the text, cover and signature sheets from the chief petitioners, the City Elections Officer reviews the sheets for compliance with the requirements for prospective city initiative petitions.  The City Elections Officer reviews the text of the initiative petition to ensure that the text reads exactly the same and is formatted the same as the text submitted with the prospective petition.  The City Elections Officer also reviews the cover and signature sheets for compliance with the city petition requirements.

The City Elections Officer prepares a written notice to the chief petitioners detailing any corrections which must be made to the text, cover or signature sheets before they can be approved for circulation.

Once the text, cover and signature sheets meet all of the requirements, the City Elections Officer notifies the chief petitioners in writing of approval to circulate the initiative petition.

Step Seven - Circulation

Once the chief petitioners receive written approval of the cover and signature sheets from the City Elections Officer, the chief petitioners may collect signatures needed to place the initiative on the ballot. Signature requirements and filing deadlines are included in Appendix D of the City initiative packet. A petition cannot be accepted unless it contains 100% of the required number of signatures.  Signatures must be submitted no less than four months before the intended election date.

If the chief petitioners intend to mail, email or post on a website (via the e-sheet, SEL 348) the cover and signature sheets to prospective signers, the text must be included with each mailing or electronic communication. 


If at any time after receiving approval to circulate the residence address of any chief petitioner changes, new cover and signature sheets with the correct address must be submitted for approval.


 Before collecting signatures, chief petitioners must review with circulators the legal requirements and guidelines for circulating an initiative, listed in Appendix E of the City Initiative Petition Information Packet and in the Secretary of State's local initiative manual.  Failure to comply with the legal requirements and guidelines will result in rejection of those sheets.

After reviewing the legal requirements and guidelines for circulating an initiative, the chief petitioners and circulators may circulate the petition.


! WARNING - Violations of the circulator requirements may result in conviction of a felony with a fine of up to $125,000 and/or prison for up to 5 years.


 Step Eight - Signature Submission

Petitioners must submit their petitions with the required number of signatures no less than four (4) months before the election date specified on the petition.  Failure to meet this deadline will render the petition void. 

Once the chief petitioners have collected at least 100% of the required number of signatures, they may submit the signature sheets to the City Elections Officer. Signature sheets will not be accepted from circulators, agents, circulator companies or any other entity.

Chief petitioners must mail or personally hand deliver signature sheets to the City Elections Officer for verification.


If signatures are submitted and signature verification shows that the petition did not qualify, the chief petitioners may submit additional signatures for verification, as long as the additional signatures are submitted prior to the signature deadline (4 months before the intended election date)


 To submit signature sheets for verification, the chief petitioners must organize the petition in the following manner: 

  • Sort signature sheets into separate stacks by county;  and
  • Number each stack of sorted signature sheets beginning with the number 1 for each county and continue numbering sequentially until all sheets for that county have been numbered. AND
  • Submit form SEL 339 petition submission signed by all chief petitioners and stating the number of signatures the petition purports to have.

If submitted by mail, sheets will only be accepted if a signed copy of the form SEL 339 is included in each box. 


!WARNING - It is the responsibility of the chief petitioners to ensure that the signature sheets are numbered sequentially before filing the petition signatures for verification.  Failure to comply with this requirement will result in rejection of those sheets not filed in accordance with Oregon Administrative Rule 165-014-0110.


 The chief petitioners must follow contribution and expenditure transaction reporting requirements detailed in the 2016 Campaign Finance Manual (published by the Secretary of State and included in appendix F of the City Initiative Petition Packet). 


Withdrawing an Initiative - Chief petitioners may withdraw their initiative prior to submitting the petition signature sheets for verification by filnig a SEL 375 Withdrawal of Initiative Petition form.  The chief petitioners may not re-activate the withdrawn petition.


Step Nine - Signature Verification

After receiving the signature sheets from the chief petitioners, and the completed SEL 339 form. the City Elections Officer begins verifying the signatures to determine if the initiative contains enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.  City Code Section 2.04.090 requires the City Elections Officer to complete the verification process within thirty (30) days after receipt of the petition and to advise the chief petitioner whether the petition qualifies to be submitted to the voters or whether additional signature sheets may be submitted (if sheets are submitted prior to the deadline). 

The City Elections Officer processes signature sheets submitted for verification by:

  • comparing the submitted cover and signature sheets to the approved versions
  • verifying that each signature sheet has a sufficient circulator certification
  • verifying that each signature sheet (SEL 371) has the approved cover sheet (SEL 369) copied on the back and
  • verifying the original signatures using the voter registration records in partnership with Multnomah County Elections.

The City Elections Officer arranges with the county elections officials for verification of signatures.  Signature verification is completed using the statistical sampling method provided by the Secretary of State (see OAR 165-014-0110 for details on this method), as required by Oregon state law and City Code. 

Step Ten - Opportunity for Competing Measure

In accordance with City Code Section 2.04.100, the City Elections Officer files qualified initiative petitions with the City Council for consideration. The Council may adopt, reject or submit a competing measure and must do so within thirty (30) days. If Council adopts the measure, it will become law without appearing on the ballot.  If Council rejects it, it will be referred to the voters.  The City Council may also choose to refer a competing measure to the voters on the same election ballot.

As required by law, the City Charter can only be amended by a vote of the people and must be referred to the voters.

Step Eleven - Placement on Ballot

If Council does not adopt the measure, the City Elections Officer certifies the measure to the County Elections Official for placement on the intended election ballot.  The County Elections Official assigns a measure number.  If the measure is approved by voters, it becomes law.