Laws governing local ballot measures in Alabama

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Laws Governing Local Ballot Measures

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Alabama has few cities with an initiative process for local ballot measures.

This article sets out the laws governing local ballot measures in Alabama. It explains:

  • Which local units of government make the initiative process available to residents.
  • How and whether local units of government, including school districts, can refer local ballot measures (such as school bond propositions) to the ballot.
  • An overview of laws governing local recall elections.

Types of local government

Local government in Alabama consists of:

  • Counties: the State of Alabama is divided into 67 counties. 2 counties, Shelby and Baldwin, have been granted home rule status by special acts of the state legislature.Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag
  • Municipalities, which may be:
Cities: according to Alabama State Code 11-40-6, any incorporated municipality with a population equal to or greater than 2,000 is a city.
Towns: According to Alabama State Code 11-40-6, any incorporated municipality with a population of less than 2,000 is a town.[1]
There are 460 cities and towns in Alabama. Alabama state law does not provide for a process of adopting a charter for municipalities.
  • In addition, there are 548 special districts and 132 independent school districts.[2]

Classification of cities

All cities are divided up into eight classes based on population:

Alabama Code 11-40-12

(a) There are hereby established eight classes of municipalities based on the population as certified by the 1970 federal decennial census, as authorized by Amendment No. 375, Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as follows:

Class 1: All cities with a population of 300,000 inhabitants or more;
Class 2: All cities with a population of not less than 175,000 and not more than 299,999 inhabitants;
Class 3: All cities with a population of not less than 100,000 and not more than 174,999 inhabitants;
Class 4: All cities with a population of not less than 50,000 and not more than 99,999 inhabitants;
Class 5: All cities with a population of not less than 25,000 and not more than 49,999 inhabitants;
Class 6: All cities with a population of not less than 12,000 and not more than 24,999 inhabitants;
Class 7: All cities with a population of not less than 6,000 and not more than 11,999 inhabitants;
Class 8: All cities and towns with a population of 5,999 inhabitants or less.
(b) The Legislature may refer, in the title thereof, to the class or classes of municipalities herein set out, in adopting general laws.
(c) Any municipality incorporated after June 28, 1979, shall be placed in one of the above classes according to the population of the municipality at the time of its incorporation.[1][3]

School districts

See also: School bond and tax elections in Alabama

Alabama requires a ballot measure to issue new bonding or issue special school taxes, as mandated by the Alabama Constitution. Alabama is one of a handful of states that protect its tax and debt limits through the state constitution. Alabama also allows citizens to petition for special one and three mill tax increases. Upon successful petition, it is up to a probate judge to approve such an election.

Local recall

Ballot Law Portal
Laws Governing Ballot Measures

The law that governs the conduct of political recalls in Alabama is Ala. Code §11-44-130 through 11-44-134. Under these statutes, municipal commissioners and mayors are subject to recall.

Because Alabama's law governing recall only applies to municipalities with a commission form of government, only commission form cities in the state have the power of recall. As of 2014, Dothan was the only city with elected commissioners, and, therefore, it is the only city in Alabama with the power of recall. Other cities, such as Vincent, have city council members, and recall cannot be applied against them.[4]

For additional detail, see: Laws governing recall in Alabama

Initiative process availability

Counties

A guide to local ballot initiatives
Local Ballot Initiatives cover.jpg

Counties have very limited powers of initiative and referendum for the establishment or repeal of certain ordinances and powers that are established in State Code 11-3A. These powers are restricted to issues of Public Health and Safety only to include:

(1) Abatement of weeds as a public nuisance as defined in Section 11-67-60.

(2) Subject to the provisions of Section 6-5-127, control of animals and animal nuisances.
(3) Control of litter as defined in subsection (b) of Section 13A-7-29, or rubbish as defined in subdivision (4) of Section 22-27-2.
(4) Junkyard control of areas which create a public nuisance because of an accumulation of items described in the definition of a junkyard under Section 11-80-10.
(5) Subject to the provisions of Section 6-5-127, abatement of noise, unsanitary sewage, or pollution creating a public nuisance as defined in Sections 6-5-120 and 6-5-121.[1][3]

Municipalities

Any municipality with the Optional Form A of government is granted authority for Initiative and Referendum. However, there are no cities currently using this form of government so this provision is not currently applicable.[5]

Some cities have claimed initiative and referendum powers independent of explicit State Law authority. Out of 53 cities that responded to a survey, 5 claimed to have initiative and referendum powers. If this percentage is applied to all the municipalities, then approximately 43 municipalities have initiative and referendum powers.[2]

Notably, Birmingham, which is the only city under the Mayor-Council form of government pursuant to the Mayor Council Act of 1955, has the powers of Initiative and Referendum, requiring signatures equaling 10% of voters in the last election.[5][6]

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Source:Local Ballot Initiatives: How citizens change laws with
clipboards, conversations, and campaigns

Authority

Constitution

There is no mention of the powers of Initiative and Referendum in the Alabama Constitution.

Statutes

Authority for the referendum power is found in Section 11-3A-6:

Section 11-3A-6:
Referendum election to repeal application of powers.

Except as provided in subsection (h) of Section 11-3A-2, the county commission of a county shall call for a referendum election on the repeal of the application of the powers authorized under this chapter in the county following a resolution of the majority of the county commission or in response to a petition signed by 10 percent of the total number of qualified electors of the county who reside in the unincorporated areas of the county requesting that the application of the powers authorized under this chapter in the county be repealed. The procedures for calling and holding a referendum election provided in Section 11-3A-2 and Section 11-3A-4 shall also apply to a referendum election for the repeal of the application of the powers authorized under this chapter in the county.[1][3]

The only statewide authority for local initiative and referendum powers in municipalities is found in section 11-44-105 but it only applies to cities with the Optional Form A government and none currently exist.[1][5]

Initiative process features

The procedures for petitions used in the limited direct democracy powers of counties are found in the Alabama State Code section 11-3A. Each petition must contain signatures equaling 10% of voters and the full legal names and addresses of all persons signing the petition. The petition is to be filed in the office of the judge of probate.[1]

Initiative process in the top 10 most populated cities

List of Most Populated Cities in Alabama
City[7] Population City Type Next election
Birmingham 212,038 General law Special Election[8]
Montgomery 205,293 General law Has no I&R
Mobile 194,822 General law Has no I&R
Huntsville 183,739 General law Has no I&R
Tuscaloosa 93,357 General law Has no I&R
Hoover 83,412 General law Has no I&R
Dothan 57,382 General law Has no I&R
Auburn 56,908 General law Has no I&R
Decatur 55,996 General law Has no I&R
Madison 44,972 General law Has no I&R

Individual city provisions

Birmingham is the only one of the top ten most populous cities in Alabama to have the powers of initiative and referendum.

Birmingham

Population as of the July 2012 census update: 212,038.[9] Birmingham is a general law local government which operates under a Mayor-Council form of government.

Birmingham's state-given process for initiative can only be used to initiate a city ordinance. For a valid petition, signatures from 10 percent of the qualified electors of the city must be gathered with a petition having the layout and information required by law. After a petition is sufficient it goes to the council for approval. If the council members fail to adopt the petitioned ordinance exactly as petitioned within 20 days of the filing of a valid petition, the council must call for a special election or, if the next general election is within 20 days, add the ordinance to the general election ballot.

State law providing for Birmingham initiative

See also

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