Launch an Intitiative!

So you've got your chapter up and running, you have a good core group, you've been making mini-zines and handing them out in your community, you've hosted a successful fundraiser, and you are ready for more?

You're ready to get STAR Voting adopted in your area!


There are three main paths for getting STAR Voting passed: by ballot initiative, by referral, and by ordinance.

  Ballot Initiative Ballot Referral Ordinance
How it works:
  • A ballot initiative is when you collect signatures to get STAR Voting on the ballot.
  • Once it's on the ballot you'll need to get over 50% of voters to vote yes. 
  • Instead of collecting signatures, the governing body in your area can vote to put STAR Voting on the ballot.
  • Once it's on the ballot you'll need to get over 50% to vote yes. 
  • If the voting method is not spelled out in your charter then you don't need a charter amendment to pass it.
  • Your local governing body can just vote to adopt STAR Voting.
Pros:
  • We recommend the ballot initiative process because it's a great tool for getting voters educated and excited about the cause.
  • Every voter who signs your petition is a vote you will need to win the campaign anyways.
  • Canvassing for signatures is a great way to recruit new volunteers.
  • A law passed by the people is much less likely to be repealed.
  • Skip the petition gathering and jump straight into the campaign.
  • This is a great option if you are confident that your electorate is already convinced and you have the votes.
  • Easy! No signatures and no campaign to win. Just convince the council, commission, board, or legislature to vote it in.
Cons:
  • Canvassing is hard work.
  • Depending on how long your canvassing window is, you may not be able to do it all with volunteers and you may need to hire canvassers.
  • Skipping the petition process might set you up to lose an election you weren't ready for in the first place.
  • Counting on the city council, county commissioners, or legislature to refer STAR may be a risk if they don't follow through.
  • Easy come easy go. If all that's required to repeal STAR is an ordinance then your reform may be short lived.
Considerations:
  • Expect to budget at least $1 a signature or more if you don't have full time volunteers.
  • If the referral does fall through will you still have time to run an initiative?
  • This could be a great option if your area is already using STAR Voting for some races and wants to save money and streamline the process by adopting STAR for other races as well. (School district, judges, etc.)


Passing STAR in local cities or counties isn't rocket science. It's just bureaucracy.

You don't need to be experienced, qualified, a lawyer, or a political operative to get something on the ballot and pass it. You just have to be organized, patient, methodical, and work as a team.

 

Not sure you have the time or bandwidth to actually win this round? Here are 5 reasons you should consider launching your ballot initiative now anyways:

  1. Even if you aren't funded and ready to actually win your campaign, having a "practice" initiative in the works will get the ball rolling, open doors, and help you build the coalition you'll need. You'll be better able to schedule meetings with legislatures, schedule presentations with local groups, and start collecting endorsements right away.
  2. Recruiting petitioners, drafting your charter amendment, and submitting paperwork for your initiative are all free. Make sure to start petitioning with volunteers and to not throw a ton of money into your canvass unless you are actually playing to win. If you take this advice, every dime and hour spent will be time and money well invested, even if your petition never gets off the ground.
  3. Once your Charter Amendment has gotten through the legal appeal part of the process you'll know your text is good to go. This part of the process can eat up a lot of time, so having your text approved far in advance is well worth it. Once you have successfully navigated the process to register your Petition Committee, get a bank account, and get your IRS forms in order you can check that off the list. Most of this infrastructure can be reused for a future initiative by the same name if needed.
  4. All of the above is a lot of work, but once this groundwork has been laid you are a force to be reckoned with. When you are ready to win, you'll be able to launch your petition quickly and easily, devoting 100% of your time and resources to the petitioning itself, rather than getting bogged down by the bureaucracy.
  5. Build it and they will come!: Make a campaign plan, reverse engineer what it will take to be successful, set benchmarks, and establish in advance dates and funding goals which you can use to determine if your campaign is viable. You may find that once you get the ball rolling the other pieces of the puzzle will come together quicker than you expected.

 

Getting started with a ballot initiative petition:

1. Call your county election office and ask a few questions. If you are considering going statewide, call your Secretary of State's office:

Note: The following is written for Oregon. Your state may be similar or different, and even within Oregon, city and county laws do vary. Double check!

  • Is the city or county you are considering for your STAR initiative "Home Rule" (ie. has a charter and the ability to amend it.) If so then a ballot initiative or a referral by the governing body is an option.

  • How many signatures are required to get a charter amendment initiative on the ballot?
  • How long is the signature collection window, from first sig collected to last sig turned in? (100 days in some places but 2 years if it defaults to the Oregon statewide rules.)
  • How long does it take from the time the first SEL 370 is submitted until signatures are approved for collection, assuming that there are no challenges and the text passes legal review?
  • How long does that process take worst case scenario?
  • What is the deadline to turn in signatures to qualify for the election you are aiming for.
  • If you don't make that deadline, what is the next election you you could qualify for with those same signatures?
  • What is the name of the best point person for follow up questions through this process?

2.  Look up the charter online!
  • Go to the "elections" section and read it to determine if there is language that specifies the voting method and timeline specifically. If not then an initiative isn't technically needed. The governing body could actually pass STAR Voting by ordinance, which is MUCH simpler, though a bit less democratic and transparent. Ideally we want the people to want STAR Voting and to vote to pass it. That would be much less likely to be repealed.
  • Determine what text would need to be replaced with new language to allow for STAR. Is it all in one section or in multiple places?
  • Send an email to sara@equal.vote with the link to the charter and a note which tells me about what you found, and what exact section or sections would need to be replaced. We will use our template to create a STAR Voting charter amendment draft for you.
  • Have our lawyers look over the text for formatting, content and agreement with the charter details.

3. Recruit your core team: 3 Chief Petitioners, a Treasurer and a Campaign Manager. Ideally these 5 committed people will make it to all your meetings and will be available on short notice for action items, paperwork, hoop jumping, etc. The Chief Petitioners have to live in the petition area. The others don't. You can also designate a "Registered Agent" who is empowered to do paperwork and things on behalf of the campaign. These individuals will form the backbone of your leadership team, with others able to step up and fill other key roles laid out in the 5 Point STAR Leadership Strategy.

Job description- Chief Petitioner:
  • You need at least one Chief Petitioner, but you can and should have up to three. Chief Petitioners are responsible for signing and completing all paperwork and forms. One of these people should take the lead on paperwork, and the others should all learn to sign forms online. Quick turnaround on each step is important.
  • The Chief Petitioner title opens doors. If you have great people, give them a great title! Chief petitioners names will be on the signature sheets and they are legally responsible for the petition campaign. People who have a great name and reputation in your community are a good choice. Good public speakers are another good choice. People willing and available to do the work are the best choice. Just make sure that your petitioners aren't all from the same side of the the political spectrum.
  • Chief Petitioner can be a huge job or a small job. It all depends on the division of labor your team decides on. Still, if people quit, or get behind, it's up to the remaining Chief Petitioners to ensure that no corners are cut, that the campaign is complying with all the laws, and that nothing falls through the cracks.
  • Chief Petitioners are responsible for signature verification. All signatures should be verified before they are turned in. This is a big job, and volunteers can help, but skilled leadership and oversight is needed. You can't do this job without having the sheets physically in front of you.
    • As they come in, check for and cross out any obviously bad signatures, do an initial count, and then paperclip a label to each stack of sheets. (Obviously bad signatures don't contain enough legible information to find the voter in the voter file, or are from signers outside of the petition area. Signatures with a missing or partial address may be findable, so if you aren't sure just flag it for now. Post-it's are your friend here!) We recommend keeping sheets sorted by canvasser and then by date signed.
    • Follow up by doing another verification to check each against the voter file. Find the name, confirm that the precinct number is within bounds, check for signature match. I recommend doing at least a statistical sample from each canvasser in this manner to determine each canvasser's validity rate.
    • Follow up doing a verification of 100% of your sheets before you turn them in, if possible. 
    • Create a spreadsheet to track your totals: canvasser reported count, initial campaign count, voter file verified total. This will help you keep track of which signatures have been validated and to what extent. Make sure to keep track of which signatures are unprocessed, which have been quick verified, and which are vote file verified! A three stage filing system is great. Sheets start off in the intake file, then move to the quick count file, then to the fully verified ready to turn in file. All signatures should be stored in a locked and secure location at all times.
    • This data will be key for helping you determine your validity rate and how big your buffer will need to be. Until you know otherwise aim for 30-40% extra. A few weeks after you turn in the minimum number of valid signatures you will know your initial validity rate, so getting those turned in early is key.
    • Before signatures sheets are turned in you'll need to number the sheets and then scan them all. Having your own record is essential in case there is foul play!

Job description- Treasurer:
  • Your treasurers will need to set up a petition committee with the SoS, the IRS, the county, and the bank! Coordinating between these 4 agencies is a total pain and the order of operations is tricky: Start by filing with the city or county > set up your petition committee with the Secretary of State >  Register with the IRS to get your EIN number > Open your bank account. Once it's all set up you'll need to report all income and expenses, and required donor information with the SoS through Orestar (or your state's equivalent) and track it all on a spreadsheet.  Once your petition is approved then you'll need to change over from the "Petition Committee" to a "Campaign Committee." Reporting deadlines for income and expenses are a month out at first, but speed up closer to the election.

Job description- Campaign Manager:

  • A campaign manager should be making sure that the folks responsible for all of the above are keeping up, while running the signature collection (with their field coordinator's help,) booking events and speaking engagements, and connecting with the press.
  • Fundraising for all of this should be taken care of in advance or there should be dedicated people working on this besides the people trying to do the petitioning and campaigning. Trying to do it all yourself, all at once, is NOT recommended.

Job description- Registered Agent:

  • A registered agent can fill out paperwork on behalf of the campaign and can officially act on behalf of the Chief Petitioners and Treasurer. A person who is not a Chief Petitioner or Registered Agent will no be able to turn in paperwork, or talk with staff from the city, county, or state staff on behalf of the campaign, so this title is important if you have someone like your Campaign Manager who will need to be empowered to get things done.

5. Start the initiative process:
  • Turn in the SEL 370 (submitting the petition)
  • Turn in the SEL 307 (registered agent form) if you want to designate a Registered Agent.
  • Read the manuals and guides for petitions and treasurers closely so you know your next steps.
  • Work CLOSELY with the county staff and your point person to make sure that you are keeping up and that you are thinking ahead. There are a LOT of pieces of the puzzle, there are tricks of the trade and extra details that are helpful, and people will not remember it all off the top of their heads. Ask lots of questions, check back often, keep meticulous records, and be systematic.
  • While you are waiting for your petition to be approved, make sure to get your canvassing team together and trained!
  • Schedule a campaign launch party and make it big! Schedule it a fair bit after you expect to be approved, just in case of delays.

6. Figure out the rest as you go! If you have a core group of 5 people, seed funding, and these 5 steps done you should turn in your paperwork.

Getting STAR referred to the ballot:

1. Meet with your legislators and get them inspired. You will need their endorsements, their advocacy, and their leadership to succeed.

2. Get a legislator to call a worksession or introduce a bill.
If you are trying to pass STAR citywide, countywide, or statewide the details will be different. In any case, you will need to identify your elected representative who will be the leader. They can help you navigate the process.

3. Provide any and all info and documentation needed. Being able to make your case isn't enough, other people will need the resources on hand to make your case for you when you aren't in the room.

4. Get the votes to refer STAR to the ballot! Once the issue comes to the floor, charter amendments typically take a majority vote to pass.

5. Campaign like your life depends on it! Win a majority of the voters in your area!



Getting STAR Voting passed by ordinance:

1. Meet with your legislators and get them inspired. You will need their endorsements, their advocacy, and their leadership to succeed.

2. Get a legislator to call a worksession or introduce a bill. If you are trying to pass STAR citywide, countywide, or statewide the details will be different. In any case, you will need to identify your elected representative who will be the leader. They can help you navigate the process.

3. Provide any and all info and documentation needed. Being able to make your case isn't enough, other people will need the resources on hand to make your case for you when you aren't in the room.

4. Get the votes to adopt STAR! Once the body has voted yes it's a done deal.