How to Make a Petition for Your Local Government
Ultimately, the job of every elected official is to represent the collective voices and desires of the people in the area the official represents. This is just as true for local and state governments as it is at the national level. To fulfill their duties as thoroughly as possible, however, officials need to be aware of their constituents’ thoughts and opinions about various issues. One way to bring attention to these issues is to create a petition — a document many constituents have signed that outlines a particular cause and requests the elected official takes action to change things.
If there’s a particular issue that you want to make sure your local representatives are aware of, circulating a petition can be a great way to make your voice heard. Petitions are effective for showing public support for or against certain issues, and they can serve as key starting points for sparking real change. If you’re thinking about starting a petition for an issue that’s important to you, there are several steps to follow to ensure you create a document that conveys your message.
Choosing and Researching Your Request
Unlike national petitions, local petitions tend to focus on issues at the community level. Maybe you’d like the city to provide funding for a new park, cut down on noise levels after a certain time at night or rethink cutting funding for a local organization. A local petition can center pretty much any request that would make your community safer or simply a better place to live.
Before you begin working on your petition, it’s best to find out whether others in the community share your desire to see the issue solved. You can talk to neighbors, attend city council meetings and even glean insight from opinions in the local paper.
You should also research which department of your local government has the power to grant your request. For instance, if you’d like better lighting for a local park, you might begin by contacting the director of your local parks department. No matter who has the authority to approve your request, it’s a good idea to contact them before beginning your petition to make sure that the solution isn’t already in the works.
Formatting and Creating Your Petition
Before drafting your petition, you’ll also want to look into whether there are any specific formatting requirements in your area. Sometimes, local governments allow you to create a petition using your own format. However, some jurisdictions require you to use specific forms. In general, petitions designed to get a question added to an official ballot tend to have stricter requirements than those meant to reflect local opinions or requests.
If there are no official forms to use, you’ll next decide what format you want to use to create your petition. If you want to create an online petition, websites like Change.org and MoveOn.org make the process easy. Just make sure that online petitions are acceptable in your jurisdiction.
Most online petition sites walk you through the entire process, and some, such as Change.org, come with the benefit of a team of petition experts to help. Once you’re up and running on these sites, you can use social media to circulate your petition throughout your community.
Otherwise, you can draft a physical petition on your own, with or without the use of an online template. If local regulations permit, you may even be able to circulate both online and physical versions of the petition as long as both use the same wording. Just be sure you’re aware of the proper protocol for your area before you attempt to use both.
Perfecting Your Petition’s Content
The key to a winning petition is making sure that you clearly but briefly state the issue and your proposed solution. The title should make it immediately clear what your petition is all about and what it aims to do. Think about how you would sum up your efforts in a few words, such as “Support Our Children: Save Funding for After School Programs.”
For the body of your petition, write a few paragraphs that describe:
- What the problem is and who it affects
- The process and solution needed to make the change happen
- Who has the power to bring the change about
- Legitimate facts, figures or personal stories that further illustrate your point
While it’s important to be clear about your proposal, it’s also important to keep things short and sweet. Remember that you’ll be asking for plenty of people to sign the petition, and many will want to be able to read over it quickly. Even if someone supports your cause, they’re unlikely to take the time to read a five-page analysis if they encounter you on their way out of the grocery store.
Finally, make sure you include space to collect signatures. At the minimum, you’ll want to make sure there’s enough room for supporters to include their names, signatures and addresses or ZIP codes. The latter is important because it allows your representative to verify that your signers live in their jurisdiction. Be sure to provide enough room for people to comfortably write down all this information, too.
Circulating and Delivering Your Petition
A petition is nothing without signatures, and the more you can get, the better the chance you have of creating change. This is why it’s always a good idea to gain the support of others who share your goal before you begin the petition process. Organize a group meeting to discuss the issue, and recruit volunteers willing to help you get your target number of signatures.
If you plan to circulate a physical petition, make sure all of your volunteers have a copy with enough space to collect as many signatures as they’ve pledged to get. It’s also a good idea to provide everyone with clipboards and plenty of pens. Keep an organized list of when and where each volunteer plans to ask for support. Provide suggestions, such as local businesses that have agreed to allow volunteers to collect signatures outside, PTA meetings and other organized group settings.
If you’re circulating an online petition, make sure everyone has access to the petition link and knows how to use it. It’s even a good idea to host a crash course that teaches volunteers how to use various social media platforms to circulate it. Ask each member to select a goal that details how many signatures they pledge to collect, making sure they understand that only those of people who live in the jurisdiction are valid. You may also want to discuss how to reach out to potential signers individually over social media and email. Often this can garner more signers, as some people may miss or overlook a general link.
Once your signatures are ready, it’s time to present your petition. In many cases, presentation is everything. Rather than simply mailing or emailing your petition, you’re likely to get a better response if you drop it off in person. The more supporters you can get to join you, the better. Reaching out to local media can also be a great idea, especially if you can turn your delivery into an event. By actually speaking with the person capable of making the change and showing them how much it matters to the community, you’re far more likely to make an impression.