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The City of Portland, Oregon

Auditor Mary Hull Caballero

Promoting open and accountable government

Referendum Process

Step One - Filing Prospective Petition

The first step in referring an Ordinance 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. A prospective petition shall consist of:

  • SEL 370, prospective petition designating chief petitioners and whether circulators will be compensated
  • SEL 369, cover sheet including title and full text of legislation to be referred (full text of the ordinance must be carried by circulators if it does not fit on the sheet)
  • SEL 371, signature sheet
  • Full and correct copy of the legislation to be referred

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

In drafting the prospective referendum petition, petitioners should use the title of the measure as enacted by City Council, the ordinance that is being referred to the voters, as well as the Ordinance number and date of enactment. The complete cover sheet, including instructions to circulators and signers, chief petitioners' names and residence addresses, the title of the ordinance enacted by Council and the complete text of the ordinance must be attached to every signature sheet circulated.

Step Two - Preparation & Approval of Petition Cover and Signature Sheets

Because of the short time period for collecting signatures, petitioner may begin circulating referendum petitions as soon as the City Elections Officer certifies the prospective petition rather than waiting for the City Attorney to prepare the ballot title. Petitioners cannot collect signatures until the City Elections Officer certifies approval in writing. See the Public Referendum Petition packet for detailed instructions. 

All local chief petitioners are required to file a Statement of Organization for Chief Petitioners (SEL 222) with the Secretary of State, Elections Division, before signature sheets can be approved by the local elections official. In addition, all local chief petitioners must disclose all contribution and expenditure transactions electronically with the Secretary of State, Elections Division. 

Step Three - Preparation of Ballot Title

The City Elections Officer forwards two copies of the prospective petition to the City Attorney for preparation of the ballot title. The City Attorney has five business days to prepare a ballot title and return it to the City Elections Officer. The City Attorney's ballot title will appear on the election ballot. The ballot title shall contain the following elements:

  • A caption, not to exceed 10 words, that reasonably identifies the subject of the referendum;
  • A question, not to exceed 20 words, that plainly phrases the chief purpose of the referendum so that an affirmative response corresponds to a yes vote on the ballot; and
  • A summary, not to exceed 175 words, that 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 notifies the petitioner it is ready and publishes a notice of receipt of the ballot title in the next available edition of the Oregonian. The notice tells registered voters they may file a petition for review of the ballot title or the single subject determination in Circuit Court no later than the 7th business day after the City Elections Officer received the ballot title from the City Attorney.

Step Five - Circulation

Once the petitioner receives written approval of the cover and signature sheets from the City Elections Officer, petitioners may circulate petitions for signatures. A petition cannot be accepted unless it contains 100% of the required number of signatures.

If the chief petitioners intend to mail or email cover and signature sheets to prospective signers the text must be included with each transmittal.

Before collecting signatures, chief petitioners must review with circulators the legal prohibitions and guidelines for circulating a referendum.

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

  • Each signature collected must be personally witnessed by the circulator. The circulator shall sign and date the certification at the bottom of the petition sheet after all the signatures on the sheet have been collected.
  • The circulator shall complete the date when the certification is signed and shall not collect any other signatures on that sheet.
  • Circulators shall not attempt to obtain signatures of persons knowing that the person signing the petition is not qualified to sign it.
  • Circulators shall not offer money or any thing of value to another person to sign or not to sign a petition, nor shall they sell or offer to sell signature sheets.
  • Circulators shall not accept compensation to circulate a petition that is based on the number of signatures obtained.

Step Six - Signature Submission

Petitioners must submit their petitions with the required number of signatures within 30 days of Council Action. Failure to meet this deadline will render the petition void. Signatures must be submitted at least 4 months prior to the next regular election to appear on that ballot. If Council passes an ordinance close to the time of an election and petitioners file signatures within 30 days of passage, the Auditor may waive the 4 month deadline if the signatures can be counted and verified, considered by Council, and submitted to the County in time to meet the County's certification deadline.

Only the chief petitioners may submit signature sheets for verification. Signature sheets will not be accepted from circulators, agents, circulator companies, or any other entity.

Before submitting the signature sheets for verification, the chief petitioners must:

  • 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.

To submit a completed referendum petition, Chief petitioners must:

  • Complete and submit SEL 339, signed by all chief petitioners, indicating how many signatures they purport to have.
  • Chief petitioners submit sorted signature pages by county and each county should have numbered signature sheets for verification with the City Elections Officer.
  • The referendum petition must contain at least 100 percent of the required number of original signatures.

The chief petitioners must file a detailed contribution and expenditure reports as required by state law. Refer to the latest Secretary of State's Campaign Finance Manual for detailed instructions.

Step Seven - Signature Verification

After receiving the signature sheets form the chief petitioners, the City Elections Officer begins verifying the signatures to determine if the initiative contains enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Until June 2020, City referendum petitions require 25,092 valid signatures to be placed on the ballot. 

According to City Charter Section 10-208 and City Code Section 2.04.090 E. (2) any franchise referendum petition requires 2,000 valid signatures to be placed on the ballot. 

City Code Section 2.04.090 requires the City Elections Officer to complete the verification process within 30 days after receipt of the petition and to advise the chief petitioner whether the petition qualifies to be submitted to the voters.

Step Eight - Opportunity for Competing Measure

In accordance with City Code Section 2.04.100, the City Elections Officer files qualified referendum petitions with the City Council for discussion, adoption or rejection. Council has 30 days to consider the petition. If Council repeals the ordinance being referred, the petition will be void and will not appear on the ballot. If Council does not repeal the ordinance, it will be referred to the voters.

Step Nine - Placement on Ballot

If Council does not repeal the legislation, 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, the original ordinance is repealed.

Citizen referendum petitions may be placed only on regularly scheduled elections - unless the Council finds that the public interest would be harmed by waiting.  The Council may call for a special election at the next available date or call for a special election when other measures are on the ballot thus reducing the City's costs.  Regular elections are the biennial statewide primary and general elections held in even numbered years.