Statewide Referendum

A referendum is a process to stay a law recently enacted by the General Assembly until the law itself can be submitted to the voters for approval or rejection at a general election.

Matters not subject to referendum are (1) laws providing for tax levies, (2) appropriations for the current expenses of the state government and state institutions, and (3) emergency laws necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety (Ohio Constitution Article II, Section 1d).

Please note: This procedural outline is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as the sole source of information. Petitioners must comply with all applicable sections of the Ohio Constitution and the Ohio Revised Code.

Petitioners are encouraged to consult legal counsel.

RequirementActionAuthority
Create Petitioners' Committee

Petitioners must designate a committee of three to five individuals to represent them in all matters relating to the petition.

Ohio Revised Code Section: 3519.02(opens in a new window)

File Initial Petition With Ohio Attorney General and Secretary of State
  1. An initial written petition, signed by 1,000 Ohio registered voters(opens in a new window), must be submitted to the Secretary of State with the full text and summary of the law or section of the law to be referred.
  2. Within 10 business days of receiving the petition, the Secretary of State must verify the number of valid signatures and compare the full text of the law or section of the law with the law on file with the office. If the petition text is correct, the Secretary of State must certify.
  3. On the same day or within one business day before or after the petition is filed with the Secretary of State, a copy of the petition with the full text and summary of the law or section of the law must be filed with the Attorney General.
  4. Within 10 business days of receiving the petition, the Attorney General will certify if he or she believes the summary to be a fair and truthful statement(opens in a new window) of the law or section of law to be referred. If the Attorney General certifies the summary, petitioners can move on to the next step. If the Attorney General does not certify the summary, petitioners may start this process over.

Ohio Constitution:
Article II, Section 1c(opens in a new window)

Ohio Revised Code Sections: 3501.05(opens in a new window); 3519.01(opens in a new window); 3519.05(opens in a new window); 3505.062(opens in a new window)

Create Petitions and Gather Signatures
  1. In order to begin gathering signatures, the petitioners must create a petition. It may be made up of part-petitions, but all separate part-petitions must be submitted at one time as one instrument.
  2. Each part-petition must have the following heading: “REFERENDUM PETITION To be submitted to the electors for their approval or rejection.” This heading must be followed by the title, certified summary, and full text of the law or section of law to be referred.
  3. Any person receiving compensation for supervising, managing, or otherwise organizing any effort to obtain signatures for a statewide petition must file a Form 15(opens in a new window) with the office of the Secretary of State before circulating petitions. Any person compensating a person for supervising, managing, or otherwise organizing any effort to obtain signatures for a statewide referendum petition must also file a Form 15(opens in a new window) with the office of the Secretary of State before any signatures are obtained.

Ohio Constitution: Article II, Section 1g(opens in a new window)

Ohio Revised Code Sections: 3501.38(opens in a new window); 3501.381(opens in a new window); 3501.382(opens in a new window); 3503.06(opens in a new window);
3519.01(opens in a new window);
3519.05(opens in a new window)

Signature Requirements
  1. The total number of signatures on the petitions must equal at least 6 percent of the total vote cast for the office of governor at the last gubernatorial election. The Secretary of State may not accept any petition for filing which does not purport to contain the minimum number of required signatures.
  2. The signatures must have been obtained from at least 44 of the 88 counties in Ohio. From each of these 44 counties, there must be signatures equal to at least 3 percent of the total vote cast for the office of governor in that county at the last gubernatorial election.
  3. Each petition signer must be a qualified elector of the state of Ohio and each petition must contain signatures of electors from only one county. If a petition contains signatures from electors in more than one county, the Secretary of State will determine which county has the majority of signatures and only the signatures from that county will be counted.
  4. Each part-petition circulated in a county must be marked with the name of the county in which it was circulated, numbered sequentially, and sorted according to county.
  5. When filing the petition with the Secretary of State, the committee must file an electronic copy of the petition and verification that the electronic copy is a true representation of the original, a summary of the number of part-petitions per county and the number of signatures on each part-petition, and an index of the electronic copy of the petition.

Ohio Constitution:
Article II, Section 1c(opens in a new window);
Article II, Section 1g(opens in a new window)

Ohio Revised Code Sections:
3519.10(opens in a new window);
3519.14(opens in a new window);
3519.16(opens in a new window); 3501.38(opens in a new window)

Filing Deadline and Filing Fee
  1. The petitions must be filed with the Secretary of State within 90 days after the law or section of law to be referred has been filed with the Secretary of State by the Governor.
  2. Any referendum petition filed after 125 days before the next election will be placed on the ballot at the regular or general election that occurs over a year later.
  3. A $25 filing fee must be paid at the time of filing.
  4. Petitions may be withdrawn if written notice is given to the Secretary of State by a majority of the committee members named to represent the petitioners. Notice must be given more than 70 business days before the referendum is to appear on the ballot, and once withdrawn, it may not be resubmitted.

Ohio Constitution: Article II, Section 1c;(opens in a new window) Article II, Section 1g(opens in a new window)

Ohio Revised Code Sections:
3501.05(opens in a new window)
3513.10(opens in a new window);
3519.08(opens in a new window)

Ohio General Assembly
  1. If the petition is found to be valid, the law or section of law will not go into effect until and unless it is approved by a majority of the voters at the first regular or general election which occurs at least 125 days after the petition is filed.

Ohio Constitution: Article II, Section 1c;(opens in a new window) Article II, Section 1g(opens in a new window)

Signature Verification and Supplemental Signatures
  1. The Secretary of State must determine the sufficiency of the signatures not later than 105 days before the election.
  2. If the signatures are determined to be insufficient, the petitioners are permitted 10 additional days to collect and file additional signatures.
  3. No additional signatures may be collected until the Secretary of State notifies the chairperson of the committee that the petition contains insufficient valid signatures and provides the committee with a unique, supplemental form. All additional signatures must be collected on the supplemental form.
  4. The Secretary of State will determine the sufficiency of additional signatures not later than 65 days before the election.

Ohio Constitution:
Article II, Section 1g(opens in a new window)

Ohio Revised Code Section: 3519.16(opens in a new window)

Signature or Petition Challenges
  1. The Ohio Supreme Court has original, exclusive jurisdiction over all challenges made to petitions or individual signatures.
  2. Any challenge to original petitions or signatures must be filed not later than 95 days before the election. The Supreme Court must rule on these challenges not later than 85 days before the election. If the Court does not rule prior to the 85th day before the election, the original signatures will be deemed sufficient.
  3. Any challenge to additional signatures must be filed not later than 55 days before the election. The Supreme Court must rule on any challenges not later than 45 days before the election. If the Court does not rule prior to the 45th day before the election, those additional signatures will be deemed sufficient and the referendum with appear on the ballot.
  4. If the Court determines that the petitioners do not have enough signatures the petition, the referendum will not move forward and will not be placed on the ballot.

Ohio Constitution: Article II, Section 1g(opens in a new window)

Ohio Revised Code Section: 3519.16(opens in a new window)

Ballot Language
  1. The Ohio Secretary of State must pass the referendum on to the Ballot Board.
  2. The Ohio Ballot Board must prescribe the ballot language for the referendum and certify it to the Secretary of State not later than 75 days before the election.
Ohio Constitution: Article II, Section 1g(opens in a new window)

Ohio Revised Code Section: 3505.062(opens in a new window)
Ballot Arguments
  1. The committee named on the petition may prepare and file an argument and/or explanation in favor of the proposed referendum not later than the 80th  day before the election. The General Assembly, or the Governor if the General Assembly is not in session, must name persons to prepare the argument and/or explanation in favor of the law to be referred. All arguments and/or explanations must be 300 words or less and must be filed with the Secretary of State not later than 80 days before the election.
  2. If the committee or the persons named by the General Assembly or Governor fail to prepare or timely file the argument and/or explanation, the Secretary of State must notify the Ohio Ballot Board, which must prepare or designate a group to prepare the arguments and/or explanation. The argument and/or explanation must be filed with the Secretary of State not later than 75 days before the election.
  3. The law to be referred together with the arguments and/or explanations must be published once a week for three consecutive weeks preceding the election, in at least one newspaper of general circulation in each county of the state, where a newspaper is published.

Ohio Constitution: Article II, Section 1g(opens in a new window)

Ohio Revised Code Section: 3519.03(opens in a new window)

Effective Date

The law to be referred does not go into effect until it has been submitted to and approved by the voters.

Ohio Constitution: Article II, Section 1c(opens in a new window)