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Preparation of a Ballot Title and Summary

 

 

Preparation of a Ballot Title and Summary

Overview

The ballot title and summary are arguably the most important part of an initiative in terms of voter education. Most voters never read more than the title and summary of the text of initiative proposals. Therefore, it is of critical importance that titles and summaries be concise, accurate and impartial.

Drafting the Initiative Title

Presently, a wide range of procedures exists in states for ballot title setting. In Colorado there is a special Ballot Title Board. Initiative proponents must appear before the board, which assigns a title, before the sponsor is authorized to gather signatures. In some states, the title is written by the sponsor, subject to the approval of a state official. In other states, the ballot title is written either by the attorney general, secretary of state or lieutenant governor.

 

Party Responsible for Drafting Title

Where to File Challenge

Petition

Ballot

Alaska

Proponent (approved by Lt. Governor)

Lt. Governor and Attorney General

Superior Court

Arizona

Proponent

Proponent (approved by Attorney General)

Superior Court

Arkansas

Proponent (approved by Attorney General)

Proponent (approved by Attorney General)

Supreme Court

California

Attorney General

Attorney General

Sacramento County District Court

Colorado

Secretary of State and Ballot Title Board

Secretary of State and Ballot Title Board

Supreme Court

Florida

Proponent (approved by Secretary of State)

Proponent (approved by Secretary of State)

Supreme Court

Idaho

Attorney General

Attorney General

Supreme Court

Illinois

Proponent (approved by Board of Elections)

Proponent (approved by Board of Elections)

Not specified in law

Maine

Secretary of State

Secretary of State

Superior Court

Massachusetts

Proponent (approved by Attorney General)

Secretary of State (approved by Attorney General)

Supreme Judicial Court

Michigan

Proponent

Director of Elections with the approval of the Board of State Canvassers

State District Court

Mississippi

Attorney General

Attorney General

Circuit Court of 1st Judicial District of Hinds County

Missouri

Secretary of State

Secretary of State

Circuit Court of Cole County, appeal to Supreme Court

Montana

Attorney General

Attorney General

District Court in Lewis and Clark County

Nebraska

Same as summary by proponent

Attorney General

District Court

Nevada

None

(Full text only)

None (summary only)

N/A

North Dakota

Secretary of State and Attorney General

Secretary of State and Attorney General

Supreme Court

Ohio

Proponent (approved by Attorney General)

Proponent (approved by Attorney General)

Not specified in law

Oklahoma

No separate title; summary serves as title

Proponent (approved by Secretary of State and Attorney General)

Supreme Court

Oregon

Attorney General

Attorney General

Supreme Court

South Dakota

None required

Attorney General

Circuit Court

Utah

None required

Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel (approved by Lt. Governor)

Supreme Court

Washington

Attorney General

Attorney General

Thurston County Superior Court

Wyoming

Proponent

Secretary of State

District Court of Laramie County

Source:  National Conference of State Legislatures, January 2002.

Drafting the Initiative Summary

Two types of summaries are drafted for initiatives. The first is the summary that appears on the petition; it is usually drafted by the same person or agency that drafts the ballot title. The other summary appears in the voter information pamphlet.  In all states, the summary, whether drafted by proponents, the attorney general, secretary of state, or another state agency, is a concise statement of the main points of the proposed measure. Proposed initiative summaries in all states are required to be impartial and non-argumentative. The number of words usually is limited; in Washington, it is limited to 75 words written by the attorney general, and in Florida, it also is limited to 75 words written by the sponsor, with the approval of the secretary of state.

 

 

Party Responsible for Drafting Summary

Where to File Challenge

Petition

Ballot

Alaska

Lt. Governor and Attorney General

Proponent (approved by Lt. Governor)

Superior Court

Arizona

None

Secretary of State (approved by Attorney General)

Superior Court

Arkansas

Proponent (approved by Attorney General)

Proponent (approved by Attorney General)

Arkansas Supreme Court

California

Attorney General

Attorney General

Sacramento County District Court

Colorado

None

Secretary of State and Ballot Title Board

Supreme Court

Florida

Proponent (approved by Secretary of State)

Proponent (approved by Secretary of State)

Supreme Court

Idaho

Attorney General

Attorney General

Supreme Court

Illinois

Proponent (approved by Board of Elections)

Proponent (approved by Board of Elections)

Not specified in law

Maine

Revisor of Statutes, approved by Secretary of State

Revisor of Statutes (approved by Secretary of State)

Superior Court

Massachusetts

Secretary of State (approved by Attorney General)

Secretary of State (approved by Attorney General)

Supreme Judicial Court

Michigan

None

Director of Elections (approved by Board of State Canvassers)

State District Court

Mississippi

Attorney General

Attorney General

Circuit Court of 1st Judicial District of Hinds County

Missouri

None

Attorney General

Circuit Court of Cole County, appeal to Supreme Court

Montana

Attorney General

Attorney General

District Court in and for the county of Lewis and Clark

Nebraska

Proponent

Attorney General

District Court

Nevada

None

Secretary of State and Attorney General

Not specified in law

North Dakota

Secretary of State (approved by Attorney General )

Secretary of State (approved by Attorney General )

Supreme Court

Ohio

Proponent (approved by Attorney General)

Proponent (approved by Attorney General)

Not specified I law

Oklahoma

Proponent (approved by Secretary of State and Attorney General)

Proponent (approved by Secretary of State and Attorney General)

Supreme Court

Oregon

Attorney General

Attorney General

Supreme Court

South Dakota

None

Attorney General

Circuit Court

Utah

None

Attorney General

Supreme Court

Washington

Attorney General

Attorney General

Thurston County Superior Court

Wyoming

None

Secretary of State

District Court of Laramie County

Source:

For More Information

For more information on initiative and referendum, contact Wendy Underhill in NCSL's Denver office.

National Conference of State Legislatures, January 2002.
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