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How many signatures does it take to get a measure on the ballot for statewide elections?

Ben Steelman
StarNews

North Carolina’s Constitution does not allow for statewide ballot initiatives, like Califonria’s famous Proposition 13, in which voters can petition to have a statute put on the ballot for a statewide vote. Tar Heel voters can occasionally vote on constitutional amendments passed by the General Assembly (the state legislature) but that’s about it.

You can still petition the legislature, but it’s not necessarily binding. If you wanted to establish, say, term limits for legislators, you’ll have to elect a whole new bunch of Honorables. (Both state senators and state House members have two-year terms, which means they’ll be up for election again in November 2010.)

Back in 1917, however, progressives slipped in a little-known provision to North Carolina law, granting initiative and referendum powers to the voters in nine North Carolina cities — one of which happens to be Wilmington.

Under Wilmington city ordinances, voters can have a proposed ordinance submitted for popular vote if they submit a petition to the City Council bearing a number of signatures equal to 25 percent of the votes cast in tha last preceding regular municipal election. If the Council doesn’t approve the measure, then it goes on the ballot.

Wilmington voters actually exercised this power back in 1982, when plans were afoot to build a proposed coal-storage facility within city limits. Opponents sent their petition to City Council and, in a special election on June 29, 1982, by a 2-to-1 margin, they approved an amendment to city zoning laws that banned the facility. (Back then activists collected some 1,300 signstures on their petition; these days, to meet the 25 percent requirement, a petition would need close to 4,000 signatures.)

In 1977, Charlotte voters used the petition and initiative process to change City Council elections from an at-large vote to a district voting system.

At least 24 states and the District of Columbia provide for statewide ballot initiatives.

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