Make or Change Local Law

County, City or District Initiatives and Referendums

The initiative and referendum process is a method of direct democracy that allows people to propose or amend charters or ordinances, or to adopt or reject an ordinance or other legislative enactment passed by a local governing body.

If a chief petitioner gathers and submits the required number of signatures, the initiative or referendum is placed on the ballot for voters to adopt or reject. This process was adopted in 1902 for state initiatives and referendum, then extended to voters of counties, cities and most districts over 50 years later.

Where to File an Initiative or Referendum Petition

Petition type​ Filing officer​
​County initiative or referendum ​County elections official
​City initiative or referendum City elections official
​District initiative or referendum County elections official of the county where the administrative office of the district is located​


Some processes below may be superseded by local charters or ordinances. Check with local elections officials for provisions and review all requirements before filing a prospective initiative or referendum.

Filing a Local Initiative

To qualify an initiative to the ballot, chief petitioners must file form SEL370 with the local elections official:

  • SEL370: Prospective Petition for Local Measure (PDF)

After receiving the prospective petition, the local elections official forwards the text of the petition to the district or city attorney for drafting of a ballot title.  The ballot title impartially summarizes the petition and its major effect.

Initiatives: Signature Gathering​

Chief petitioners may begin gathering signatures once the ballot title is complete, they have received written approval to circulate, and they have reviewed with circulators the legal requirements and guidelines for circulating an initiative petition.

After gathering the required signatures, the chief petitioner submits them to the local elections official for verification. The official puts the measure on the ballot if the petition contains the required number of signatures.

The number of valid signatures required to qualify an initiative for the ballot is based on a percentage of the total votes cast at the last election:

  • For a county initiative, 6% of the total votes cast in the county for governor.
  • For a city initiative, 15% of registered voters in the city at the time the prospective petition was filed.
  • For most district initiatives, 15% of the total votes cast in the district for governor.
  • For other local initiatives, 6% of the total votes cast in the district for governor. This applies to:
    • The Port of Portland.
    • A metropolitan service district organized under Oregon Revised Statutes Chapter 268.
    • A school district with enrollment exceeding 40,000 pupils.
    • A mass transit district in a Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area with a population exceeding 400,000, other than a mass transit district measure relating to a route, schedule or fare change.

Filing a Local Referendum

A prospective referendum petition may only be filed once a non-emergency ordinance or other legislative enactment is adopted by the governing body.

To qualify a referendum to the ballot, the chief petitioner starts by filing form SEL370 with the local elections official:

  • SEL370: Prospective Petition for Local Measure (PDF)

Referendums: Signature Gathering

Chief petitioners can begin gathering signatures after receiving written approval to circulate and reviewing with circulators the legal requirements and guidelines for circulating a referendum petition.

Instead of circulating with the final ballot title, which is prepared at the same time signatures are gathered, referendum petitions are circulated using the title of the measure, as adopted by the governing body, or the title supplied by the chief petitioner.

Referendums: Signature Verification

After gathering the required number of signatures, the chief petitioner submits them to the local elections official for verification. The official puts the measure on the ballot if the petition contains the required number of signatures.

The number of valid signatures required to qualify an initiative for the ballot is based on a percentage of the total votes cast at the last election:
  • For a county referendum, 4% of the total votes cast in the county for governor.
  • For a city referendum, 10% of registered voters in the city at the time the prospective petition was filed.
  • For most district referendums, 10% of the total votes cast in the district for governor.
  • For other local referendums, 4% of the total votes cast in the district for governor. This applies to:
    • The Port of Portland.
    • A metropolitan service district organized under Oregon Revised Statutes Chapter 268.
    • A school district with enrollment exceeding 40,000 pupils.
    • A mass transit district in a Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area with a population exceeding 400,000, other than a mass transit district measure relating to a route, schedule or fare change.

Local Governing Body Referrals

In addition to citizens placing a bill (passed by a governing body) on the ballot using the referendum process, the local governing body may directly refer a change in ordinance to the ballot, for voters to adopt or reject.

The governing body must refer all changes to adopted charters, so voters may adopt or reject the amendment.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​

Resource List

Manuals

2016 County, City and District Initiative and Referendum Manual (PDF)*

2016 Campaign Finance Manual (PDF)

* Failure to follow instructions in the manual may invalidate the petition, or delay receiving written approval to circulate.

Additional Forms

SEL222: Statement of Organization for Petition Committee (PDF)

SEL223: Campaign Account Information (PDF)

SEL307: Agent Authorization Form (PDF)

SEL370: Prospective Petition for Local Measure (PDF)

SEL371: Petition for Local Initiative/Referendum Measure Signature Sheet (PDF)

SEL375: Withdrawal of Initiative or Referendum Petition (PDF)