Code of the District of Columbia

§ 1–1001.16. Initiative and referendum process.

(a)(1) Any registered qualified elector, or electors of the District of Columbia, who desire to submit a proposed initiative measure to the electors of the District of Columbia, or who desire to order that a referendum be held on any act, or on some part or parts of an act, that has completed the course of the legislative process within the District of Columbia government in accordance with § 1-204.04(e), shall file with the Board 5 printed or typewritten copies of the full text of the measure, a summary statement of not more than 100 words, and a short title of the measure to be proposed in an initiative, or of the act or part thereof on which a referendum is desired.

(2) The proposed initiative measure, or the act or part thereof, on which a referendum is desired shall be accompanied by:

(A) The name and address of the proposer; and

(B) An affidavit that the proposer is a registered qualified elector of the District of Columbia.

(b)(1) Upon receipt of each proposed initiative or referendum measure, the Board shall refuse to accept the measure if the Board finds that it is not a proper subject of initiative or referendum, whichever is applicable, under the terms of title IV of the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, or upon any of the following grounds:

(A) The verified statement of contributions has not been filed pursuant to §§ 1-1163.07 and 1-1163.09;

(B) The petition is not in the proper form established in subsection (a) of this section;

(C) The measure authorizes, or would have the effect of authorizing, discrimination prohibited under Chapter 14 of Title 2; or

(D) The measure presented would negate or limit an act of the Council of the District of Columbia pursuant to § 1-204.46.

(2) In the case of refusal to accept a measure, the Board shall endorse on the measure the words “received but not accepted” and the date, and retain the measure pending appeal. If none of the grounds for refusal exists, the Board shall accept the measure.

(3) If the Board refuses to accept any initiative or referendum measure submitted to it, the person or persons submitting such measure may apply, within 10 days after the Board’s refusal to accept such measure, to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia for a writ in the nature of mandamus to compel the Board to accept such measure. The Superior Court of the District of Columbia shall expedite consideration of the matter. If the Superior Court of the District of Columbia determines that the issue presented by the measure is a proper subject of initiative or referendum, whichever is applicable, under the terms of title IV of the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, and that the measure is legal in form, does not authorize discrimination as prescribed in paragraph (1)(C) of this subsection, and would not negate or limit an act of the Council of the District of Columbia as prescribed in paragraph (1)(D) of this subsection, it shall issue an order requiring the Board to accept the measure. Should the Superior Court of the District of Columbia hold in favor of the proposer, it may award court costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees to the proposer.

(4) After subject determination has been made the Board shall assign a serial number to each initiative and referendum measure, using separate series of numbers for initiative and separate series of numbers for referendum measures. Thereafter, a measure shall be known and designated on all petitions, ballots and proceedings as “Initiative Measure No. ...............” or “Referendum Measure No. ...............”.

(c) Within 20 calendar days, of the date on which the Board accepts an initiative or referendum measure, the Board shall:

(1) Prepare a true and impartial summary statement, not to exceed 100 words, bearing the serial number of the measure, and expressing the purpose of the measure. Such statement shall not intentionally create prejudice for or against the measure;

(2) Prepare a short title for the measure consisting of not more than 15 words to permit the voters to identify readily the initiative or referendum measure and to distinguish it from other measures which may appear on the ballot; and

(3) Prepare, in the proper legislative form, the proposed initiative or referendum measure, where applicable, which shall conform to the legislative drafting format of acts of the Council of the District of Columbia. The Board may consult experts in the field of legislative drafting, including, but not limited to, Corporation Counsel of the District of Columbia and officers of the Council of the District of Columbia for the purpose of preparing the measure in its proper legislative form.

(d) After preparation, the Board shall adopt the summary statement, short title, and legislative form at a public meeting and shall within 5 days, notify the proposer of the measure of the exact language. In addition, the Board, within 5 days of adoption, shall submit the summary statement, short title, and legislative form to the District of Columbia Register for publication.

(e)(1)(A) If any registered qualified elector of the District of Columbia objects to the summary statement, short title, or legislative form of the initiative measure formulated by the Board pursuant to subsections (c) and (d) of this section, that person may seek review in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia within 10 calendar days from the date the Board publishes the summary statement, short title, and legislative form in the District of Columbia Register stating objections and requesting appropriate changes. The Superior Court of the District of Columbia shall expedite the consideration of this matter.

(B) If any registered qualified elector of the District of Columbia objects to the summary statement, short title, or legislative form of the referendum measure formulated by the Board pursuant to subsection (c) of this section, that person may seek review in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia within 10 calendar days from the date the Board publishes the summary statement, short title, and legislative form in at least one newspaper of general circulation stating objections and requesting appropriate changes. The Superior Court of the District of Columbia shall expedite the consideration of this matter.

(2) Should no review in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia be sought as provided in paragraph (1) of this subsection, the proposed summary statement, short title and legislative form shall be deemed to be accepted.

(3) Should the Superior Court of the District of Columbia hold in favor of the proposer, it may award court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees to the proposer.

(f) When the summary statement, short title, and legislative form of an initiative or referendum measure has been established pursuant to subsection (e) of this section, the Board shall certify such and transmit a copy thereof by certified mail to the proposer. Thereafter, such short title shall be the title of the measure in all petitions, ballots, and other proceedings relating thereto. The Board shall, upon the request of any person, make single copies of the approved short title, summary statement, and full legislative text available at no charge. Additional copies shall be made available at a nominal cost.

(g) Upon final establishment of the summary statement, short title, and legislative form of an initiative or referendum proposal, the Board shall prepare and provide to the proposer at a public meeting an original petition form which the proposer shall formally adopt as his or her own form. The proposer shall print from the original blank petition sheets on white paper of good writing quality of the same size as the original or shall utilize the mobile application made available under § 1-1001.05(a)(19). Each initiative or referendum petition sheet shall consist of one double-sided sheet providing numbered lines for 20 printed names and signatures with residence addresses (street numbers) and ward numbers. Each petition sheet shall have printed on it, and each mobile application shall electronically display, the following information:

(1) A warning statement that declares that only duly registered voters of the District of Columbia may sign the petition;

(2) A statement that requests that the Board hold an election on the initiative or referendum measure that states the measure’s serial number and short title; and

(3) The text of the official summary and short title of the measure printed on the front of the petition sheet.

(h) Each petition sheet for an initiative or referendum measure shall contain an affidavit, made under penalty of perjury, in a form determined by the Board and signed by the circulator of that petition sheet which contains the following:

(1) The printed name of the circulator;

(2) The residence address of the circulator, giving the street number;

(3) That the circulator of the petition sheet was in the presence of each person when the appended signature was written;

(4) That according to the best information available to the circulator, each signature is the genuine signature of the person it purports to be;

(5) That the circulator of the initiative or referendum petition sheet was a qualified petition circulator at the time of circulation.

(6) The dates between which the signatures to the petition were obtained.

(i) In order for any initiative or referendum measure to qualify for the ballot for consideration by the electors of the District of Columbia, the proposer of such an initiative or referendum measure shall secure the valid signatures of registered qualified electors upon the initiative or referendum measure equal in number to 5 percent of the registered electors in the District of Columbia: Provided, that the total signatures submitted include 5 percent of the registered electors in each of 5 or more of the 8 wards. The number of registered electors which is used for computing these requirements shall be consistent with the latest official count of registered electors made by the Board 30 days prior to the initial submission to the Board of the initiative or referendum measure, pursuant to subsection (a) of this section.

(j)(1) A proposer of an initiative measure shall have 180 calendar days, beginning on the 1st calendar day immediately following the date upon which the Board certifies, according to subsection (h) [subsection (f)] of this section, that the petition form of such initiative measure is in its final form to secure the proper number of valid signatures needed on the initiative petition to qualify such a measure for the ballot, pursuant to subsection (i) of this section and to file such petition with the Board.

(2) A proposer of a referendum measure shall secure the proper number of valid signatures needed on the referendum petition to qualify such a measure for the ballot pursuant to subsection (i) of this section, and shall file such petition with the Board before the act, or part thereof, which is the subject of the referendum has become law according to the provisions of §§ 1-204.04 and 1-206.02(c). No act is subject to referendum if it has taken effect according to the provisions of § 1-206.02(c).

(3) The proposer may not begin circulating an initiative or referendum petition until the Board has certified pursuant to subsection (h) [subsection (f)] of this section that such petition is in its final form.

(k)(1) Upon submission of an initiative or referendum petition by the proposer to the Board, the Board shall refuse to accept the petition upon any of the following grounds:

(A) The petition is not in the proper form established in subsection (g) of this section;

(B) The time limitation established in subsection (j) of this section within which the petition may be circulated and submitted to the Board has expired;

(C) The petition on its face clearly bears an insufficient number of signatures;

(D) The petition sheets do not have attached to them the statements of the circulators as provided in subsection (h) of this section; or

(E) The petition was circulated by persons who were not qualified petition circulators at the time of circulation.

(2) In the case of refusal to accept a petition, the Board shall endorse on the petition the words “submitted but not accepted” and the date, and retain the petition pending appeal. If none of the grounds for refusal exists, the Board shall accept the petition.

(l) If the Board refuses to accept an initiative or referendum petition when submitted to it, the person or persons submitting such petition may apply, within 10 days after the Board’s refusal to accept such petition, to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia for a writ in the nature of mandamus to compel the Board to accept such petition. The Superior Court of the District of Columbia shall expedite the consideration of the matter. If the Superior Court of the District of Columbia determines that the petition is legal in form and apparently meets the requirement for signatures, both as to number and as to ward distribution, prescribed in subsection (i) of this section, and was submitted within the time limitations established in subsection (j) of this section, and has attached to the petition the proper statements of the circulators prescribed in subsection (h) of this section, it shall issue an order requiring the Board to accept the petition as of the date of submission for filing. Should the Superior Court of the District of Columbia hold in favor of the proposer, it may award court costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees to the proposer.

(m) Upon submission of a referendum petition to the Board, the Board shall notify the appropriate custodian of the act of the Council of the District of Columbia which is the subject of the referendum (either the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives) as provided in §§ 1-204.04 and 1-204.46 and the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall, as appropriate, return such act or part or parts of such act to the Chairman of the Council of the District of Columbia. No further action may be taken upon such act until after a referendum election is held. If, however, after the counting and validation procedure for signatures, which takes place pursuant to subsection (o) of this section, the referendum measure fails to meet the percentage and distribution requirements for signatures established in subsection (i) of this section, the act which was the subject of the referendum shall be again transmitted to the Congress for review as provided in § 1-206.02(c).

(n) When the Board accepts an initiative or referendum petition, whether in the normal course or at the direction of a court, the Board may detach, in the presence of the person submitting the petition or his or her designated representative, if he or she desires to be present, the sheets containing the signatures, and cause all of them to be firmly attached to 1 or more printed copies of the proposed initiative or referendum measure in such books or volumes as will be most convenient for counting, canvassing, and validating names and signatures.

(o)(1) After acceptance of an initiative or referendum petition, the Board shall certify, within 30 calendar days after such petition has been accepted, whether or not the number of valid signatures on the initiative or referendum petition meets the qualifying percentage and ward distribution requirements established in subsection (i) of this section, and whether or not the necessary number of names and signatures of registered qualified electors of the District of Columbia, properly distributed by wards, appear on the initiative or referendum petition. This certification may be by a bona fide random and statistical sampling method. If the Board finds that the same person has signed a petition for the same initiative or referendum measure more than once, it shall count only 1 signature of such person. If a person who signs a petition is found to be a qualified registered elector in a ward other than that which was indicated on the petition sheet, such person shall be counted from the correct ward in determining whether or not an initiative or referendum measure qualifies for the ballot. Two persons representing the proposer(s) may be present during the counting and validation procedures. Should a political committee or committees exist in opposition to a particular proposed initiative or referendum measure, 2 persons representing such committee or committees may be present during the counting and validation procedures. The Board shall post, by making available for public inspection, petitions for initiatives or referenda, or facsimiles thereof, in the office of the Board, for 10 days, including Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, beginning on the 3rd day after the petitions are filed. Any qualified elector may, within such 10-day period, challenge the validity of any petition, by a written statement duly signed by the challenger and filed with the Board, specifying concisely the alleged defects in such petition. The provisions of § 1-1001.08(o)(2) shall be applicable to such challenge. The Board may issue supplemental rules concerning the challenge of such petitions.

(2) For the purpose of verifying a signature on any petition filed pursuant to this section, the Board shall first determine that the address on the petition is the same as the residence shown on the signer’s voter registration record. If the address is different, the signature shall not be counted as valid unless the Board’s records show that the person was registered to vote from the address listed on the petition at the time the person signed the petition.

(p)(1) After determining that the number and validity of signatures on the initiative or referendum petition meet the qualification standards established under this section, the Board shall certify the sufficiency of the initiative or referendum petition and shall certify that the initiative or referendum measure will appear on the ballot. The Board shall conduct an election on an initiative measure at the next primary, general, or city-wide special election held at least 90 days after the date on which the measure has been certified as qualified to appear on the ballot. The Board shall conduct an election on a referendum measure within 114 days after the date the measure has been certified as qualified to appear on the ballot. In the case of a referendum measure, if a previously scheduled general, primary, or special election will occur between 54 and 114 days after the date the measure has been certified as qualified to appear on the ballot, the Board may present the referendum measure at that election.

(2) The Board shall publish the established legislative text of an initiative or referendum measure in no less than 2 newspapers of general circulation in the District of Columbia within 30 calendar days after the date upon which the Board certifies, pursuant to paragraph (1) of this subsection, that the measure has qualified for appearance on an election ballot.

(q)(1) Upon qualification of an initiative measure, the Board shall place on the ballot the serial number of the initiative and its short title and summary statement in substantially the following form:

INITIATIVE MEASURE No.
(SHORT TITLE)
(SUMMARY STATEMENT)
FOR Initiative Measure No.
AGAINST Initiative Measure No.

(2) Upon qualification of a referendum measure, the Board shall place on the ballot the serial number of the referendum measure and its short title and summary statement in substantially the following form:

REFERENDUM MEASURE No.
(SHORT TITLE)
(SUMMARY STATEMENT)

(A) If the referendum concerns whether the registered voters of the District of Columbia approve or reject the act, then the ballot shall state:

Shall the registered voters of the District of Columbia approve or reject Act (insert Act number)?

YES, to approve

NO, to reject.

(B) If the referendum concerns part or parts of an act, then the ballot shall state:

Shall the registered voters of the District of Columbia approve or reject sections (insert section(s) that is the subject of the referendum measure) of Act (insert Act number)?

YES, to approve

NO, to reject.

(r)(1) An initiative measure which has been ratified by a majority of the registered qualified electors voting on the measure shall not take effect until the end of the 30-day congressional review period (excluding Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, and any day on which neither House is in session because of an adjournment sine die, a recess of more than 3 days or an adjournment of more than 3 days) beginning on the day such measure is transmitted to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate, and then only if during such 30-day period both Houses of Congress do not adopt a concurrent resolution disapproving such initiated act. Upon certification by the Board that the initiative measure has been ratified, the Chairman of the Council shall forthwith transmit the measure to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and to the President of the Senate.

(2) If a majority of the registered qualified electors voting in a referendum on an act or part or parts thereof vote to disapprove the act or part or parts thereof, then such action shall be deemed a rejection of the act or part or parts thereof, and no action by the Council of the District of Columbia may be taken on such act or part thereof for 365 days following the date when the Board certifies the vote concerning the referendum.

(s) If provisions of 2 or more initiative or referendum measures which have been approved by the registered qualified electors at the same election conflict, the provisions of the measure receiving the highest number of affirmative votes shall prevail over the conflicting provision of the other measure.


(Aug. 12, 1955, 69 Stat. 704, ch. 862, § 16; as added June 7, 1979, D.C. Law 3-1, § 2(c), 25 DCR 9454; Mar. 16, 1982, D.C. Law 4-88, § 2(k), (o), (q), (s), 29 DCR 458; Mar. 16, 1988, D.C. Law 7-92, § 3(n), 35 DCR 716; May 10, 1989, D.C. Law 7-231, § 5, 36 DCR 492; Mar. 11, 1992, D.C. Law 9-75, § 2(e), 39 DCR 310; Feb. 5, 1994, D.C. Law 10-68, § 7(c), 40 DCR 6311; Sept. 22, 1994, D.C. Law 10-173, § 2(g), 41 DCR 5154; July 25, 1995, D.C. Law 11-30, § 2(e), 42 DCR 1547; March 31, 2000, D.C. Law 13-64, § 2, 46 DCR 9219; Apr. 27, 2012, D.C. Law 19-124, § 501(g)(6), 59 DCR 1862; Oct. 17, 2013, D.C. Law 20-31, § 2(c), 60 DCR 11535; Oct. 8, 2016, D.C. Law 21-160, § 1072(c), 63 DCR 10775.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 1-1320.

1973 Ed., § 1-1116.

Section References

This section is referenced in § 1-1001.07, § 1-1001.11, § 1-1001.14, § 1-1001.17, § 1-1021.03, § 1-1021.04, and § 1-1163.11.

Effect of Amendments

D.C. Law 13-64, rewrote par. (5) of subsec. (h), which previously read: “That the circulator of such initiative or referendum petition sheet is a qualified registered elector of the District of Columbia; and”; and rewrote subpar. (E) of par. (1) of subsec. (k), which previously read: “The petition was circulated by persons who were not qualified registered electors of the District of Columbia pursuant to subsection (h) of this section.”

D.C. Law 19-124, in subsec. (b)(1)(A), substituted “§§ 1-1163.07 and 1-1163.09” for “§§ 1-1102.04 and 1-1102.06”.

The 2013 amendment by D.C. Law 20-31 substituted “was a qualified petition circulator at the time of circulation” for “is a resident of the District of Columbia and at least 18 years of age; and” in (h)(5); and substituted “qualified petition circulators” for “residents of the District of Columbia and at least 18 years of age” in (k)(1)(E).

Cross References

Political committees, statements of organization, required disclosures, see § 1-1102.04.

Emergency Legislation

For temporary (90-day) amendment of section, see § 2 of the Petition Circulation Requirements Emergency Amendment Act of 1999 (D.C. Act 13-51, April 6, 1999, 46 DCR 3636).

For temporary (90-day) amendment of section, see § 2 of the Petition Circulation Requirements Congressional Review Emergency Amendment Act of 2000 (D.C. Act 13-284, March 7, 2000, 47 DCR 2031).

For temporary (90 day) amendment of section, see § 401(g)(6) of Board of Ethics and Government Accountability Establishment and Comprehensive Ethics Reform Emergency Amendment Act of 2012 (D.C. Act 19-298, January 29, 2012, 59 DCR 683).

For temporary amendment of (h)(5) and (k), see § 2(b) of the Board of Elections Petition Circulation Requirements Emergency Amendment Act of 2012 (D.C. Act 19-587, January 7, 2013, 60 DCR 977).

Temporary Legislation

For temporary (225 day) amendment of section, see § 2 of the Petition Circulation Requirements Temporary Amendment Act of 1999 (D.C. Law 13-14, July 17, 1999, law notification 46 DCR 6311).