Referendum Process

Referendums can be introduced by voters to overturn nearly any law passed by the DC Council. Ballot Initiatives, on the other hand, are entirely new laws that are initiated by voters. While they are similar in how they ultimately end up before voters, Referendums strictly refer to laws passed by the DC Council. Referendums give voters the final say on unpopular actions by the DC Council, like their tyrannical repeal of Ballot Initiative #77.

The Referendum process begins when the DC Council Chairman transmits a DC law to Congress for the 30 legislative day review period known as the Congressional Review Period.  The District of Columbia’s “Home Rule Charter” requires that all laws passed by the 13-member DC Council be reviewed by Congress before becoming law. A “legislative day” is any day when either the House of Representatives or the Senate is in session. During the Congressional Review Period, Congress must pass a “joint motion of disapproval” and it must be signed by the president in order for Congress to overturn a DC law. If the law makes it through the Congressional Review Period without Congress overturning it, it becomes a DC law.

Once the DC Council Chairman has transmitted the law to Congress, advocates who disagree with the law may submit a Referendum Measure to the DC Board of Elections. The Referendum Measure must contain a title and a summary statement that explains what law the Referendum seeks to overturn. The DC Board of Elections must then approve the summary statement, title, and then draft legislative text. After these are adopted, the proposer of the Referendum Measure will receive circulating petitions that need to be signed by registered DC voters.

In order for the Referendum Measure to become a completed Referendum Petition, the campaign must collect valid signatures from 5% of the registered voters in 5 of the 8 Wards of the District of Columbia. While Ballot Initiatives must collect the same number of signatures and get 180 calendar days to collect them, a Referendum Measure has only until 5:00pm the day before the Congressional Review Period expires to collect the roughly 25,000 valid signatures needed to complete the Referendum Petition.

Once the Referendum Petition is submitted to the DC Board of Elections and it has been certified to have a sufficient number of valid signatures, the Board must schedule a special election within 114 days or if there is a previously scheduled election taking place between 54 and 114 days, then the Referendum will be placed before voters at that election.  

However, there are no elections scheduled in the District of Columbia in 2019, so the Referendum to overturn the DC Council’s repeal of Ballot Initiative #77 will take place at a special election in 2019.  At the special election, DC voters will be asked to vote YES if they approve the DC Council’s law or NO if they reject the DC Council’s repeal of Ballot Initiative #77.  If the majority of DC voters choose NO and reject the DC Council’s law, the DC Council may not legislate on the issue for 365 days.

On October 30, the DC Council Chairman transferred the “Tipped Wage Workers Fairness Amendment Act of 2018” to Congress and started the Congressional Review Period.  Section 2 of this law repeals Ballot Initiative #77. The Save Our Vote campaign has submitted the Referendum Measure to the DC Board of Elections that will ask DC voters  to overturn Section 2.  The campaign and will soon receive the circulating petitions.

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