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How to Start a Petition

Updated on October 15, 2015

What is a petition?

Before I explain how to start a petition, I want to examine what a petition is, what it is used for, and by what authority we have as citizens to start one.  A petition, in its most common form, is simply a request to an authoritative body to enact a change of some sort.  The authoritative body may be a high school principal, a home owners association, or any public entity or government body.  A petition is usually a document which has been signed by numerous individual and may be presented orally, written, or transmitted via the Internet.

Start a petition
Start a petition

Why start a petition

The Petition

In the United States, we as citizens are given the right to petition as it is granted by the Petition Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution which guarantees the right of the people “to petition the Government for redress of grievances.”  In many states, the petition may be used to allow for direct initiatives, also known as ballot initiatives, which is a form of direct democracy.  It allows the registered voters in those states to determine what is best for their communities.  There are also many states that do not allow direct initiatives, which leave only one recourse for the citizenry of those states who have a grievance; file a lawsuit against the government.

Petitions are used as a way to force an authoritative to recognize that there is a want and desire for a certain change.  The size of a petition, determined by the number of qualified signatures, can help influence decisions of those governing bodies in the same way that special interest groups have been influencing legislation with money.

How to Start a Petiton

If you want to start a petition to get something put on the ballot for public vote then the first place you should contact is the governing body you’re going to petition and request any official guidelines that are required.  Most state and local governments have an official guideline for starting and submitting a petition.

Writing the petition is pretty much a standard operation.  Begin with a one paragraph summary of the petition.  First describe the situation, then suggest what change is needed, and follow up with an explanation of why it is needed.  A short summary might read something like the following: “We, the students of City College, petition the college to build a shelter for the designated smoking area adjacent to the cafeteria.   Smokers should not be subjected to adverse weather conditions solely to protect non-smokers from second hand smoke.”

Beneath the summary you will need four columns labeled Name, Address, Phone Number, and Signature.  Then each line under those columns should be numbered to keep a good tally on the desired number of signatures needed.

For political petitions, some states will require that the petition be submitted for review and pay a registration fee before it is circulated for signatures.  This is why you will need to contact the governing body for a complete set of official guidelines.  In most other cases, the petition will be ready for signatures so go find some volunteers and get started.  Make sure that you gather more than the required amount of signatures in case any of the signatures are challenged and removed.

The following states currently have the initiative process: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Washington.  Unless you live in one of the above states, you’re only recourse for grievance is to file a lawsuit against the governing body following any official appeals. 

When all the signatures are collected, follow the guidelines on submitting the petition.  Attend any public meetings held by the governing body and request that your petition be addressed.  If your petition is accepted and addressed by the governing body then there is a good chance you will see the change that was requested.  If the petition is accepted and then dismissed then you may want to seek legal advice from an attorney.

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  • Pascale1973 profile image

    Pascale Skaf Saliba 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

    Your article is a great subject for today, I wrote an article this morning in response to the bill in congress, your article compliments mine, voted up will link to yours!

  • profile image

    SanXuary 6 years ago

    Excellent, this is what every American should be doing. I have been trying forever to get this point across and no one is getting it but its coming finally. Forget elected officials lets make some demands that we can all agree on and give the power back to the people.

  • livewithrichard profile image
    Author

    Richard Bivins 6 years ago from Charleston, SC

    Sunshine, unfortunately I do not think your petition would do much of anything other than fuel the abortion protest. Also, it is within the protestors 1st Amendment rights to hold such a protest. Your energies would be better spent organizing a boycott of the area where the protest is being held. However, you might want to seek guidance from your campus to verify if the protestors obtained any needed permits to assemble. Boycotting the protest would be the best scenario since in order to have a proper protest, the protestors need a proper audience. No audience means a failed protest. Good luck to you.

  • Sunshine Ota profile image

    Sunshine Ota 6 years ago from Olympia, Washington

    Hello, I was just wondering if I could start a petition to stop a protest group from protesting on the community college I go to. I'm pretty sure many ppl would like to see them not come to our campus and protest. I don't have a problem with them protesting but the topic, abortion, is very controversial & the way they're protesting is not pleasant. If I got a petition going and requested the campus security to not allow them on campus would that be possible?

  • imgreencat profile image

    imgreencat 6 years ago

    I consider myself to be an activist. This info may come in handy. Thank you!

  • susanlang profile image

    susanlang 6 years ago

    Rich ~ thanks for posting this. Often we forget how to carry out our rights when something goes wrong around us. Freedom of speech and petition signing is in many cases, a strong voice of the people. I've used both and encourge everyone to stand up and be counted. Great job and keep the good hubs coming. Voted up.

  • profile image

    kaysee1962 6 years ago

    I would like to see the laws changed as for the judgement my attorney and I are working on that now, it all has to do with child custody and custody of my granddaughter when the other grandmother is not biologically related, how could a judge give the child to her when there is no blood relations, the laws have to be changed.

  • livewithrichard profile image
    Author

    Richard Bivins 6 years ago from Charleston, SC

    Kaysee it is if you want to get those laws changed but as for your judgment you need to speak to a lawyer to handle that.

  • profile image

    kaysee1962 6 years ago

    Is this where I would start if I received a judgement in court because of the napoleanic laws of Louisiana

  • livewithrichard profile image
    Author

    Richard Bivins 6 years ago from Charleston, SC

    Anyone can start a petition for any reason Concerned Citizen. Are you a student at the community college or just a nearby resident? Either way, you have the right to petition. Try using one of the links I posted above, such as the one for change.org. Nothing will change unless concerned citizens like you initiate the change.

  • profile image

    Concerned Citizen 6 years ago

    I want to start a petition in Ellis County Texas, againt a club at a community college. Can I do that?

  • profile image

    B.M. 7 years ago

    That was useful, especially with me trying to get a crosswalk set up.

  • profile image

    louis vuitton 7 years ago

    Definitely worth checking out. It's everyone's right if they want. This is very useful. Thanks Richard.

  • Cheeky Girl profile image

    Cassandra Mantis 7 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    Definitely worth checking out. It's everyone's right if they want. This is very useful. Thanks Richard.

  • Springboard profile image

    Springboard 7 years ago from Wisconsin

    It's always a good idea to be actively involved in our government, at whatever level. Too many people don't ever think about what the government's doing at all, can't name their politicians, nor can they entertain what party their politicians are a part of. Yet they can tell you what Britney Spears latest song is called, who she's dating, where she was last seen. Conversely, some guys can give you the name of each head coach for every football team in the NFL.

    Petitions are one way to become involved, but people need to arm themselves with information in order to make good decisions with regard to any political issue, including petitions.

    Therein lies one big problem with petitions. Most people don't read the paragraph that describes the petition. They take the petitioner at his word. Or they don't consider other implications with regard to what is being proposed.

  • livewithrichard profile image
    Author

    Richard Bivins 7 years ago from Charleston, SC

    You could always start your petition online using one of the links provided above. They're easy to start, free, and can help you connect with like minded individuals. LOL it's a little hard to be an activist through anonymity unless you like wearing the Groucho Marx glasses :)

  • akirchner profile image

    Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Central Oregon

    Who knew? Great information and thinking about a petition I could start although living in Redneckville, I probably should be cautious - or have plastic surgery after I start it.....

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

    That was interesting . Thank you for the information.