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Getting an Issue on the Ballot

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Reviewed Date: June 21, 2021

Original Author: 
Darden, Don
Date of Material: 
Jul 7, 2004

Elections--Initiatives and referendums

Getting an Issue on the Ballot

MTAS was asked how a citizen goes about getting an issue on the ballot.

Dear Mr. Hamilton,

You have asked MTAS "How does a citizen go about getting an issue on the ballot?"

Answer: In Tennessee there is no right to hold an election, including a referendum, absent an express grant of power by the legislature. [McPherson v. Everett, 594 S.W. 2d 677 (Tenn. 1980]. The State Attorney General in 1980 opined that "the use of a referendum as a method of gauging the electorate's view of a particular issue is totally foreign to the representative system of government in Tennessee. [OAG 83-389 (Nov. 17, 1983)].

The General Assembly has specifically authorized the following referenda:

* Liquor Retail Sales TCA 57-3-101
* Annexation TCA 6-51-104
* Local Sales Tax TCA 67-6-701
* General Obligation Bonds TCA 9-21-201
* Recall, when in the private act charter [Tullahoma's charter does not provide for a recall election].
* Private Act passed by the General Assembly Article XI, Section 9, Tennessee Constitution
* Creating an E911 District TCA 7-86-101
* Adoption or amendment of a home rule charter Article XI, Section 9, Tennessee Constitution
* Consolidation of cities and county TCA 7-1-101
* Adoption or surrender of a general law charter
* Amending the city charter. [This is accomplished by the General Assembly after which the amendment must be approved either by a 2/3 majority of the city board, or by referendum, as stated in the private act to amend the charter.]

Don J. Darden
Municipal Management Consultant
1-615-532-2588 (or mobile--615-476-6943)
e-mail dardend@tennessee.edu


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