Evanston Voters: How to get a Question on the Ballot

Illinois is one of 24 states that allow voters to initiate legislation through a petition. When done properly, these “Questions of Public Policy” then become referenda questions on our election ballots. The questions can be for the entire City, a single ward, or even just a precinct, depending on who the initiative would ultimately impact.

While City Council can propose legally-binding referenda, voter initiatives may only be non-binding advisory questions to demonstrate public support or opposition. And while Council questions can be added by an ordinance or resolution, referenda by the public must be submitted through a petition of voters.

But regardless of whether it’s Council or voters doing the submitting, it’s first in—first on the ballot. Only the 3 questions are allowed, and they appear in the order in which they were submitted. One exception to the 3-question limit are “backdoor referenda,” which allow a petition of voters, residents or property owners to submit questions determining whether an action by City Council should be effective, adopted or rejected.

Signature Requirements

Signatures must:

1. Be from registered Evanston voters

Though a non-Evanston voter doesn’t invalidate your entire petition sheet, it just won’t count toward the total signatures you’ll need. And if your question only concerns a ward or precinct, all signers must be registered voters within that area.

If you need to strike a signature, the circulator initials next to it and signs a certification listing the page and line number for each signature struck. Just be sure to include these certification pages with the rest of petition sheets before submitting.

2. Total at least 8% of the votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election.

For example, if you were submitting a question for the Nov. 6, 2018 general election, you would look at the November 2014 general election. Evanston cast a total of 24,566 votes for governor, so you’d then need to get at least 1,966 qualified signatures (24,566 x .08 (8%)) for an all-Evanston question.

However, if your question only concerns voters in, say, the 1st first precinct of the 1st ward, there were only 168 votes cast there in 2014. You’d need a minimum of only 14 qualified signatures, but they would all need to be from registered voters within that precinct.

You can find previous election results on the Cook County Clerk website.

3. Be signed in ink in the presence of the circulator

Electronic signatures don’t qualify, nor do e-petitions. The petition circulator must witness all signatures.

4. Be next to the signer’s printed street address

The city, county and state blanks may be pre-filled for Evanston-only questions.

Deadlines for Submission

Question petitions must be filed at 92 days before the general election. That would be Monday, August 6 if you’re submitting for the Nov. 2018 election. The deadline for City Council questions is 13 days later (79 days before the election).

How to Write a Referenda Question

Questions must:

  1. Ask a single question
  2. Involve only one topic
  3. Have a “yes” or “no” answer
  4. Be something the City would be authorized to do
  5. Use neutral, non-argumentative language

Search previous Referenda questions

Petition Requirements

Sample Petition for Referendum Question in Evanston
Sample Petition for Referendum Question in Evanston

All Petition Sheets must:

  1. Be the same size
  2. Include the same headings and footers
  3. Include original signatures (no photocopies or duplicates)

Headings must include:

  1. Voter question to be asked
  2. The political subdivision, district or precinct where it will be asked (ex. City of Evanston; City of Evanston, Second Ward, etc.)

Circulator’s Affidavit

The bottom of each petition must include a Circulator’s Affidavit, signed in the presence of a notary public, certifying that the circulator:

  1. Is age 18 or older
  2. Is a U.S. citizen
  3. Personally witnessed all of the petition’s qualified signatures on that petition sheet

And…before submitting, sheets should be:

  1. Securely fastened
  2. Numbered consecutively, beginning with #1 as the top sheet
  3. Signed by the circulator, and notarized by someone other than the circulator
  4. For purposes of legal notice, include a certificate page stating the name and address of one proponent for the question, or an attorney for the proponents. 

Where to Submit

Petitions must be filed with the local election official, currently the City Clerk.


Search previous Illinois Referenda questions (To refine results to only successful advisory questions, select and refine Referenda Type to “Advisory” and Result to “Pass”)

10 ILCS 5/28-1 Illinois Election Code – Submitting Public Questions