Petition Requirements

By Eric Miller

A petition is a popular way of asserting a popular stance on an issue. Petitions are written to express a viewpoint, whether it is to request a referendum vote on an ordinance passed by a municipal government or to save a recently cancelled television show. That viewpoint is then reinforced by signatures by people who are endorsing what is expressed in the petition. These documents often request an action be taken. When the petition is part of a legal mechanism to initiate change, such as referendum or ouster petitions, certain requirements must be met before the document may be considered actionable.

Differing Rules

There are several different types of petitions that vary by intent. Some petitions are designed to remove elected officials from office, others to bring an issue to a referendum vote and still others to express support for something. For petitions that serve as a mechanism for potential governmental action, such as ousters or referendums, the people who sign are often required to be age 18 or older and possibly registered to vote in order to be counted on the petition.

Referendum Petitions

Some petitions are circulated to oppose a decision made by a local government entity, usually at the municipal or county levels. For example, a county commission may pass a wheel tax increase that is highly unpopular with the county residents. Those residents create a petition to force the issue to a referendum, which allows voters to decide whether the tax should be increased. These types of petitions require the signatures of a percentage of the population. That percentage varies from state to state and possibly even county to county. Contact the local election commission for local percentage requirements. Often, there is a time limit to petition sending the passage of local legislation to referendum.

Informal Petitions

This type of petition is the kind that circulates through the Internet sometimes when a television show gets cancelled. An informal petition shows support for a cause or product and really has few constraints as far as regulations go. A person can get as many signatures as he wants and then send it to whoever he wants to see the petition.

Ouster Petitions

In some states, residents of a municipality or county may sign an ouster petition in a bid to remove an elected official from office. For example, the former mayor of Coopertown, Tenn., Danny Crosby, was the subject of an ouster petition because citizens were unhappy with his policies and allegedly cavalier leadership methods. The petition was turned in to the local district attorney's office, which pursued the ouster proceedings in chancery court in 2006. An ouster petition requires a percentage of local residents to sign the document before it can be turned in to the proper agency.

Delivering Petitions

Depending on the purposes of petitions, they will be delivered to different authorities for action. A petition to bring a decision made by elected municipal decision to referendum, for example, may be delivered to the city recorder or presented during a regularly scheduled meeting of the legislative body. Informal petitions should be delivered to whoever has the authority to effect change in line with the desires expressed in the petitions. If unsure about where to deliver a petition regarding a municipal, county or state legislative issue, contact the local election commission office for assistance.

About the Author

Eric Miller is a newspaper reporter based in Middle Tennessee. His crime and government articles appear regularly in several publications in Sumner County and the Nashville area. He has a natural thirst for knowledge and enjoys sharing what he learns.

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