Election Commission: petition guidelines

Petition efforts underway in Lakeland
Jeremy Shiffer brings a petition to John Keller, both of Lakeland, in efforts to force a city-wide vote on Lakeland’s $50 million school bond issuance.
Photo by John Collins

Upon request, the Shelby County Election Commission has provided general information on the petition process for a general obligation bond referendum, such as the one a group of Lakeland citizens are pursuing for the city’s $50 million school bond issuance.

The number of signatures required is 10 percent of a municipality’s registered voters at the time the city posted its legal notice about the bond issue (Dec. 15, Commercial Appeal). That number was 8,274 registered voters, so the petition will need 827 valid signatures of registered voters living in Lakeland.

GENERAL OBLIGATION BONDS (T.C.A. §§ 9-21-205, 206, 207 and 209)

1. Only county or municipal legislative bodies may start the process for holding a general obligation bond referendum — The legislative body of a county or municipality can adopt an initial resolution to issue general obligation bonds.

a. The county or municipality must publish a copy of such resolution and a notice that meets the statutory requirements in a newspaper of general circulation within the county or city, as the case may be. (T.C.A. §9-21-206)

b. On the date the county or city publishes the resolution, the county election commission must record the number of registered voters in the county or municipality. If a petition is properly and timely filed, this number will have to be certified to the respective legislative body.

2. At least ten percent (10%) of the registered county or municipal voters must sign a petition — Petitions protesting the issuance of the general obligation bonds must be signed by at least ten percent (10%) of the registered county or municipal voters within twenty (20) days from the date of the publication of the applicable resolution in the newspaper of general circulation in the county or municipality, as the case may be. (T.C.A. §9-21-207(b))

a. Rather than the county election commission, the petition protesting the issuance of general obligation bonds must be filed with the respective official charged with maintaining the records of the local government. (T.C.A. §9-21-207(b))

b. If a protest petition is not filed in a timely manner, a referendum shall not be necessary, and such bonds shall be issued as proposed. (T.C.A. §9-21-207(a)(2))

c. The statute does not require that specific language be contained in the protest petition. However, the face of the petition must clearly state its purpose and it must contain places for the registered voters to sign their names and give their residential addresses.

d. The petition must be filed within twenty (20) days from the date the county or municipality published the notice and resolution in the newspaper.

e. Registered voters may not withdraw their signatures from the petition after signing the petition.

3. The county election commission must certify the number of registered voters as of the date of the published notice and the number of valid signatures on the petition — Within fifteen (15) days of receiving the petition, the county election commission shall certify to the applicable local government two (2) things:

a. The total number of registered voters as of the date of the publication of the notice.

b. The total number of valid signatures of registered voters signing the petition.

4. An election resolution is required to call the referendum — If the required number of signatures is collected on the petition, the governing body of the local government shall adopt an election resolution and direct the county election commission to hold the referendum. (T.C.A. §9-21-209)

a. The election resolution replaces the initial resolution on the issuance of general obligation bonds.

b. The election resolution must contain the following information:

1) The amount or maximum amount of general obligation bonds to be issued;

2) The public works project or projects for which the general obligation bonds are to be issued;

3) The rate or maximum rate of interest which the general obligation bonds are to bear;

4) A brief concise statement that the general obligation bonds will be payable:

(A) From ad valorem taxes levied upon all the taxable property in the local government or a portion of the local government, if applicable, and if the latter, then a brief statement or description of such portion of the local government;

(B) From revenues and, in the event of a deficiency in such revenues, from taxes; or

(C) From taxes, and additionally secured by a pledge of revenues;

5) A proposition to issue the general obligation bonds as it is to appear on the ballot, including the maximum amount of such bonds to be authorized and the public works project or projects for which such bonds are to be issued; and

6) That the county election commission is to hold the election.

5. Timing of referendum — The time of the election is governed by T.C.A. §2-3-204.

T.C.A. § 2-3-204 is a general law which frequently controls the timing of an election of a question, i.e., a referendum, and provides the following:

a. Referendums shall be held on dates set by the county election commission not less than forty-five (45) days nor more than sixty (60) days after the county election commission is directed to hold an election.

b. If the county election commission determines that the date for a referendum falls within thirty (30) days of an upcoming regular primary or general election being held in the jurisdiction, the election commission may reset the date of the referendum to coincide with the regular primary or general election, even though this may be outside of the forty-five (45) days to more than sixty (60) day time period established in the statute.

c. If a county resolution or municipal ordinance directs the county election commission to hold a referendum on the same day as the August general election, the regular November election, any regularly scheduled municipal election, or the presidential preference primary, then the resolution or ordinance shall be filed with the county election commission not less than seventy-five (75) days prior to such election.

d. Petitions requesting a referendum which must be held on the same day as the August general election, the regular November election, any regularly scheduled municipal election, or the presidential preference primary, shall be filed with the county election commission not less than seventy-five (75) days prior to such election.