Elections FAQ 9

Must a village or city hold a referendum election on an issue merely because a resident or group of residents requests one by petition?

No. The instances in which a resident or resident group may compel a governing body to hold a referendum election using a petition or otherwise are limited to those circumstances specified by state law or local ordinance. For example, state law requires that a referendum be held in some annexation actions if a sufficient number of qualified petitioners file a referendum petition. Wis. Stat. sec. 66.021(5)(c). Likewise, a referendum would result from a proper petition for direct legislation (see Elections 593 for an in-depth discussion of direct legislation petitions) and the governing body failure or refusal to adopt the proposed ordinance or resolution. Wis. Stat. sec. 9.20(4). However, in the absence of a specific statute such as these or a local ordinance, a governing body has no legal obligation to hold a referendum election on an issue solely because the demand is made by petition from one or more residents.