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Voting 101

Application Resources

Maps and Precincts


Below is an example of what you ballot may look like:

When completing the ballot, make sure to fill in the bubble completely!

What are the positions you’re voting people into?

Most people know that they can vote for their President, Senators, and Representatives, but did you know there are dozens of officials you get a say in choosing?

The U.S. presidential race gets all the attention, and in that way, it can seem like the star of the nation's electoral movie. It gets the most interviews, the most advertisements on TV, and people often view it as the one election they need to show up for. The Presidential election is really good at taking all of the limelight.

Just like no movie would work with just one actor, our government requires a huge cast to make things happen.


The United States Government is split into three levels. There are the Federal officials, who make choices for our whole country. Then there are State officials, who make decisions for just their own states. And then there are the often overlooked Local officials, who make choices for your local city or township that you may not even know affect your daily life. All three of these levels of government affect you, and you get to vote to decide who fills the positions at every level.

You might have learned about the Electoral College in school, or from the last presidential election. This is the group of people who has the final say in who our president is, which means it's really important that we educated ourselves and vote for people at all levels of government.

As Americans, we choose:

Click on any of the above to learn about the people you have the power to elect.


Organize. Vote. Run. Lead. Transform.


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What is a ballot initiative?

Common names for ballot measures include:

  • Ballot initiatives

  • Ballot referenda

  • Voter initiatives

  • Propositions

  • Citizen initiatives

  • Citizen questions

As citizens of the State of Michigan, we have the ability to exercise direct democracy in a way many Americans cannot. This is through the use of a ballot measure. Instead of a law going through to be voted on by Congress, the people can vote directly for the law.

There are only 24 states that have a ballot initiative process!

Ballot initiatives come in two types: Direct Initiatives and Indirect Initiatives.

Direct Ballot Initiatives

Go directly to the ballot for election

In Michigan, constitutional initiatives are a “direct” ballot initiative.

Indirect Ballot Initiatives

Submitted to legislature

State Congress has a specific amount of time to act on the submission.

If the State Congress rejects the initiative, or proposes a different version of it, or if Congress takes too long, some states send it right to the ballot. In other words, Congress might submit a competing ballot measure alongside the original ballot initiative.

In Michigan, statute (law) initiatives are an “indirect” ballot initiative.

If you’d like to see current Michigan ballot initiatives, check out this site here: http://www.michigan.gov/sos/0,4670,7-127-1633_41221_62581-339877–,00.html 



A popular referendum is similar to a ballot initiative, except that instead of a new law, a referendum is a petition by the people to vote themselves on a new law the legislature has recently passed. In this case, the State Congress decides by itself whether to put the legislation on the ballot. Most states (though not all) are able to do this.

You might be asking yourself whether or not these initiatives are effective. In fact, according to the Initiative & Referendum Institute’s Ballotwatch, between 1904 and 2009 there were 2,314 ballot initiatives on state ballots, and 41% of these were approved!

Ballot initiatives can be addressed to the state government, but they can also be used for local cities and county elections.

So what’s the process of putting an initiative on the ballot?

1. Preliminary filing of a proposed petition with a designated state official.

The petition has to be formatted in a very specific way according to Michigan Law. The Michigan Department of State’s Bureau of Elections offers consultations for formatting the bill to this legally required form (though they can’t offer advice about the actual content of the proposal

In addition to sending the petition as a pdf in an email to elections@michigan.gov, 15 printed copies of the petition must be sent to the Secretary of State, specifically to the Bureau of Elections.

2. Review of the petition for conformance with statutory requirements and a review of the language of the proposal.

In Michigan, this is an optional step. Petitioners can (and should, although they don’t have to) submit a copy of their petition to the State Board of Canvassers so they can pre-approve the petition form. If the petition doesn’t have the proper format, all the signatures collected will be thrown out.

3. Preparation of a ballot initiative title and summary.
This step is important because most people only ever read the title and summary of the initiative while they’re voting.

The title and summary are supposed to be unbiased, but whether or not this is always the case is up for debate.

In Michigan, the title of the petition is drafted by the group or people that are filing the initiative want them to. The title and summary of the ballot initiative is drafted by the Director of Elections with the approval of the Board of State Canvassers.

4. Circulation of the petition to obtain the required number of signatures of registered voters (usually a percentage of the votes cast for a statewide office in the preceding general election).

Referendum petitions can circulate from the date the law was enacted by legislature until 90 days after the legislative session that the law was enacted during.

Only signatures collected 180 days before the petition is filed (step 5) can be counted. Petitioners can only file with their signatures all at once–they can’t file with some signatures and then submit more signatures later.

There is a minimum signature requirement before a petition can be considered. Usually petitioners need way more signatures than the minimum required, because so many of them won’t pass the verification process (in step 5).

Ballot initiatives that make new laws or amend current laws need 252,523 signatures to be considered.

Ballot initiatives that amend the State Constitution need 315,654 signatures.

Referendum require 157,827 signatures.

5. Submission of the petition to the state elections official, who must verify the number of signatures.

In Michigan, you file the petition with the Michigan Department of State’s Bureau of Elections.

Once a proposed ballot initiative has gone through this process, it’s placed on the ballot during the next general election.

If the proposal was for a referendum, the law the referendum is trying to overturn is suspended until the election can happen.

To become a law, it needs to receive a majority vote.


If you’d like to learn more about the details of Michigan ballot initiative petitioning, you can check that out here:   https://www.michigan.gov/documents/sos/Ini_Ref_Pet_Website_339487_7.pdf


A big ballot proposal about gerrymandering is coming up this 2018 election. You can learn more about that by clicking here. 




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