Petition Circulation Periods

Petition Circulation Periods

Woman signing petitionIn most states, petitioners have a limited period of time during which to gather the requisite signatures. The limits range from 60 days (Massachusetts) to four years (Florida). In 17 of the 24 initiative states, circulators have a year or more to gather signatures. In Arkansas, Ohio and Utah, no time limits are set for circulating petitions.

Pros & Cons

Interestingly, longer circulation periods do not necessarily lead to an increased number of initiatives on the ballot. Some of the states with the longest circulation periods-such as Florida and Illinois-have very few measures on the ballot. Some states with the shortest circulation periods-such as California, Colorado and Washington-are among the states with the highest number of initiatives that reach the ballot. Providing more time for gathering signatures, therefore, should not lead to a flood of initiatives on the ballot.

The length of the circulation period is important to volunteer efforts, and increasing the time for gathering signatures may be beneficial. Volunteer efforts are time-consuming because they often are less well-organized and more often are subject to disruptions when volunteers fail to show up. Longer circulation periods clearly benefit volunteer petition drives.

Crafting an appropriate limit on circulation periods is a delicate task. If the period is too short, volunteer efforts will be disadvantaged. However, if the period is too long, there is a risk that voters may have moved between the time they signed the petition and the time it is submitted for verification, thus resulting in a higher percentage of invalid signatures.

Circulation Periods


Circulation Period

Submission Deadline


1 year

Prior to the date the Legislature convenes (January)


2 years

120 days before the election



120 days before the election


150 days

150 days after issuance of official summary; will be placed on the ballot in the next election that is at least 131 days after it is submitted


6 months

3 months before the election


4 years

91 days before the general election


18 months or until April 30 in an election year, whichever occurs earlier

May 1 in the year an election on the initiative will be held, or 18 months from the date the petitioner receives the official ballot title from the Secretary of State, whichever is earlier


2 years



1 year

On or before 50th day after the convening of the Legislature in first regular session; on or before the 25th day after the date of convening of the Legislature in the second regular session


60 days to submit to legislature; 42 days if legislature fails to act

14 days before the first Wednesday in December


180 days

Constitutional: 120 days before the election

Statutory: 10 days before beginning of a legislative session


1 year

90 days before the first day of the legislative session


18 months

6 months prior to the date of the next regular election


1 year

By the third Friday of the fourth month preceding the election


2 years

4 months prior to the general election


Constitutional: 291 days

Statutory: 316 days

Constitutional: third Tuesday in June of an even-numbered year

Statutory: second Tuesday in November of an even-numbered year

North Dakota

1 year

90 days before the election



Constitutional: 90 days prior to the general election

Statutory: 10 days prior to legislative session


90 days

60 days prior to the date of the next general election


2 years

120 days prior to the general election

South Dakota

1 year

Constitutional: 1 year before the next general election

Statutory: first Tuesday in May in a general election year



Before June 1


Direct: 6 months

Indirect: 10 months

Direct: 4 months prior to the next state general election

Indirect: 10 days before the regular session of the Legislature


18 months

Prior to the date the Legislature convenes for a regular session

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures, May 2002.

About This NCSL Project

NCSL tracks election and campaign issues in four major categories: campaign finance, election laws and procedures, election results and analysis, and initiative and referendum. We provide comprehensive 50-state research and analysis on a wide variety of topics related to these issues.

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