The Initiative and Referendum Petition for New York State

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If you agree with the Independence Party of NYS that initiative and referendum should finally be made legal here in Dutchess County and across our state (as it is now already in over half the states in the U.S.), then sign on to this petition, pass it along to all you know, send a letter to all 25 of us in our County Legislature on this at [email protected] for the resolution from yours truly to be passed asap, and call state legislators toll-free at (877) 255-9417.

Joel Tyner
Dutchess County Legislature Environmental Committee Chair
County Legislator (Clinton/Rhinebeck)
324 Browns Pond Road
Staatsburg, NY 12580
[email protected]
(845) 876-2488
[see for much more on this]

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[resolution here from yours truly introduced early in spring of 2009]

WHEREAS, initiative and referendum is a process that allows citizens of almost half of the states in this country to place new legislation on a popular ballot, or place laws recently passed by the legislature on the ballot, and vote on it, and

WHEREAS, since 1904 until 2007 some 2231 statewide referenda initiated by citizens have been held in this country; 909 of these initiatives have been approved; perhaps even greater is the number of such referenda called by state legislatures or mandatory, 600 compared to 311 civic initiatives from 2000 to 2007, and

WHEREAS, recent surveys have indicated that New Yorkers would like a greater level of involvement in pursuing issues for legislative passage; over 26 states currently have some form of initiative and referendum process which has proven successful in providing an alternate means of addressing public opinion; initiative and referendum ensures that voters are able to voice their opinions in a more direct way to make their government more responsive, and

WHEREAS, initiatives and referendums differ from most legislation passed by representative democracies; ordinarily, an elected legislative body develops and passes laws; initiatives and referendums, by contrast, allow citizens to vote directly on legislation, and

WHEREAS, initiative is a process by which any citizen or organization may gather a predetermined number of signatures to qualify a measure for the ballot; popular referendum is a process by which a predetermined number of signatures (typically lower than the number required for an initiative) qualifies a ballot measure repealing a specific act of the legislature, and

WHEREAS, A.6816 establishes an initiative and referendum process so that voters are able to bring issues to the state legislature for consideration, defines the term "initiative" as the power of the electors to propose amendments to the constitution and to propose laws, and defines the term "referendum" as the power of the electors to approve or reject laws or parts of laws passed by the legislature, and

WHEREAS, under A.6816, an initiative or referendum proposal can be brought to the attorney general's attention with the signature of 250 voters; the attorney general is authorized to prepare the petition to comply with technical requirements, and the petition is then circulated for signature by 6\% of electors who voted for governor in the last gubernatorial election if the proposal amends a statute, and

WHEREAS, under A.6816, if the proposal amends the constitution, 8\% of such electors are required, and then the proposal is then submitted to the legislature for consideration; if not passed within six months after receipt from the Secretary of State, the measure shall be submitted to the voters at the next general election, provided a subsequent petition is circulated and receives the requisite number of signatures, and therefore be it

RESOLVED, that the Dutchess County Legislature requests that our state legislature pass and Governor Paterson sign into law A.6816 and state Senate companion legislation, and be it further

RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution be sent to Governor David Paterson and Dutchess County's delegation of state legislators.

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BILL NO A06816


COSPNSR Raia, Errigo, Tobacco, Corwin, Conte, Giglio, Lopez P, Walker

MLTSPNSR Barclay, Hawley, Sayward, Townsend

Establishes an initiative and referendum process so that voters are able to
bring issues to the state legislature for consideration; defines the term
"initiative" as the power of the electors to propose amendments to the
constitution and to propose laws; defines the term "referendum" as the power of the electors to approve or reject laws or parts of laws passed by the

SUMMARY OF SPECIFIC PROVISIONS: Article 20 of the constitution is
renumbered article 21 and a new article 20 is added to authorize the
initiative and referendum process. An initiative is defined as the
power of the electors to propose amendments to the constitution and to
adopt or reject them. A referendum is defined as the power of the elec-
tors to approve or reject certain laws or parts of laws passed by the

An initiative or referendum proposal can be brought to the attorney
general's attention with the signature of 250 voters. The attorney
general is authorized to prepare the petition to comply with technical
requirements. The petition is then circulated for signature by 6\% of
electors who voted for governor in the last gubernatorial election if
the proposal amends a statute. If the proposal amends the constitution
8\% of such electors are required. The proposal is then submitted to the
legislature for consideration. If not passed within 6 months after
receipt from the Secretary of State, the measure shall be submitted to
the voters at the next general election, provided a subsequent petition
is circulated and receives the requisite number of signatures.

JUSTIFICATION: Recent surveys have indicated that New Yorkers would
like a greater level of involvement in pursuing issues for legislative
passage. Over 26 states currently have some form of initiative and
referendum process which has proven successful in providing an alternate
means of addressing public opinion. This proposal ensures that voters
are able to voice their opinions in a more direct way to make their
government more responsive.


2007-2008: A.5096 Held in Judiciary Committee; 2005-2006: A.4749: held
for consideration in Judiciary
2003-2004: S.520/A.4117: held for consideration in Judiciary
2001-2002: S.1987/A.3956: opinion referred to Judiciary
1999-2000: S.2820/A.5020: To Attorney General for opinion, opinion
referred to Judiciary
1997-1998: S.1458/A.2385 Referred to Judiciary
1995-1996: S.2268, Attorney General opinion referred to Judiciary
1993-1994: S.2414, Remained in Judiciary
1991-1992: S.8341, Senate Judiciary

EFFECTIVE DATE: After successive passage by the legislature and subse-
quent approval at general election.

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"Initiative and Referendum"

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In U.S. politics, initiative and referendum is a process that allows citizens of many U.S. states[1] to place new legislation on a popular ballot, or place laws recently passed by the legislature on the ballot, and vote on it.

Initiative and referendum, along with recall elections and popular primary elections, is one of the signature reforms of the Progressive Era.

It is written into the constitutions of several states, particularly in the Western United States.


The Progressive Era was one of reforms aimed at breaking the concentrated, some would say monopoly, power of certain corporations and trusts. Many Progressives felt that state legislatures were part of this problem and that they were essentially "in the pocket" of certain wealthy interests. They sought a method to counter this a way in which average persons could become directly involved in the political process. One of the methods they came up with was the initiative and referendum. Since 1904 till 2007 some 2231 statewide referenda initiated by citizens were held in the USA. 909 of these initiatives have been approved. Perhaps even greater is the number of such referenda called by state legislatures or mandatory - 600 compared to 311 civic initiatives in 2000-2007.

Types of initiatives and referendums

Initiatives and referendums -- collectively known as "ballot measures," "propositions," or simply "questions" -- differ from most legislation passed by representative democracies; ordinarily, an elected legislative body develops and passes laws. Initiatives and referendums, by contrast, allow citizens to vote directly on legislation.

In many U.S. states, ballot measures may originate by several different processes:

Initiative, in which any citizen or organization may gather a predetermined number of signatures to qualify a measure for the ballot. (These may be further divided into constitutional amendments and statutory initiatives. Statutory initiatives typically require fewer signatures to qualify for the ballot.)

Popular Referendum, in which a predetermined number of signatures (typically lower than the number required for an initiative) qualifies a ballot measure repealing a specific act of the legislature.

Legislative referral (aka "legislative referendum"), in which the legislature puts proposed legislation up for popular vote (either voluntarily or, in the case of a constitutional amendment, as a necessary part of the procedure.)

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In political science, the initiative (also known as popular or citizen's initiative) provides a means by which a petition signed by a certain minimum number of registered voters can force a public vote on a proposed statute, constitutional amendment, charter amendment or ordinance, or, in its minimal form, to simply oblige the executive or legislative bodies to consider the subject by submitting it to the order of the day. It is a form of direct democracy. It has also been referred to as "minority initiative," thus relating it to minority influence.

The initiative may take the form of either the direct initiative or indirect initiative. Under the direct initiative, a measure is put directly to a vote after being submitted by a petition. Under the indirect initiative, a measure is first referred to the legislature, and then only put to a popular vote if not enacted by the legislature. In United States usage, a popular vote on a specific measure is referred to as a referendum only when originating with the legislature. Such a vote is known, when originating in the initiative process, as an "initiative," "ballot measure" or "proposition."

Brief history of popular initiative

The initiative is only available in an certain minority of jurisdictions. It was included in the Swiss Federal Constitution in 1891, permitting a certain number of citizens (currently 100,000) to make a request to amend a constitutional article, or even to introduce a new article into the constitution. Right of initiative is also used at the cantonal and communal level in Switzerland; many cantons allow initiatives to enact regular non-constitutional law, but the federal system does not. If the necessary number of supporters is reached, the initiative will be put to a referendum about two or three years later; the delay helps prevent short-term political moods to introduce themselves into the constitution. The parliament and government will both issue their official opinions on whether they recommend voting for or against the proposed amendment, and these opinions will be printed on the ballot. The parliament may also pass an alternative amendment suggestion which will also be included on the ballot; in this case, the voters cast two votes, one for whether or not they want an amendment, and one for which one they want, the original one from the initiative or the one introduced in parliament, in case a majority decides for amending. A citizen-proposed change to the constitution in Switzerland at the national level needs to achieve both a majority of the national popular vote and a majority of the canton-wide vote in more than half of the cantons to pass. The vast majority of national initiatives introduced since 1891 have failed to receive voter support.

Provision for the initiative was included in the 1922 constitution of the Irish Free State, but was hastily abolished when republicans organised a drive to instigate a vote that would abolish the Oath of Allegiance. The initiative also formed part of the 1920 constitution of Estonia.

Initiative in the United States

In the United States the initiative is in use, at the level of state government, in 24 states and the District of Columbia [1], and is also in common use at the local and city government level. The initiative has been recognized in the US since at least 1777 when provision was made for it by the first constitution of Georgia.

The modern U.S. system of initiative and referendum originated in the state of South Dakota. South Dakota adopted initiative and referendum in 1898 by a vote of 23,816 to 16,483. South Dakota is also the only state to have the idea develop on home soil without knowledge of the Swiss measure[citation needed]. Oregon was the second state to adopt, and did so in 1902, when the state's legislators adopted it by an overwhelming majority. The "Oregon System", as it was at first known, subsequently spread to many other states, and became one of the signature reforms of the Progressive Era (1890s-1920s). Well known U.S. initiatives include various measures adopted by voters in states such as Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Missouri, Massachusetts, where it is called an "initiative petition", and Alaska.

The first attempt to get National ballot initiatives occurred in 1907 when House Joint Resolution 44 was introduced by Rep. Elmer Fulton of Oklahoma. In 1977, both the Abourezk-Hatfield (National Voter Initiative) and Jagt Resolutions never got out of committee. Senator Mike Gravel was part of that effort. Gravel has since suggested a (controversial) method to get a new proposal, the National Initiative for Democracy, into the Constitution without asking Congress. Registered U.S. voters can now vote at to ratify the National Initiative, much as citizensnot the existing 13 State Legislaturesratified the Constitution at the Constitutional conclusion. However, the U.S. Constitution was not ratified by direct citizen referendum, but, pursuant to Article VII, through a series of state conventions.

Popular initiatives in the European Union

The rejected Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE) included a limited indirect initiative right (Article I-46(4)). The proposal was that 1,000,000 citizens, from a minimal numbers of different member states, could invite the executive body of the European Union (EU), the European Commission, to consider any proposal "on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Constitution." The precise mechanism had not been agreed upon. Critics underlined the weakness of this right of initiative, which did not ultimately entail any vote or referendum.

In any case, one can make a petition to the European Parliament


A restricted, local, indirect initiative was introduced on 28 March 2003 in the French Constitution in the frame of the decentralization laws (article 72-1, rйfйrendum d'initiative locale.) However, it is only the initiative to propose to the local assembly (collectivitй territoriale) the inscription of a subject to the order of the day. The local assembly then takes the decision to submit, or not, the question to popular referendum.

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From ...


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A referendum (plural referendums or referenda), ballot question, or plebiscite (from Latin plebiscita, originally a decree of the Concilium Plebis) is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. This may result in the adoption of a new constitution, a constitutional amendment, a law, the recall of an elected official or simply a specific government policy. The referendum or plebiscite is a form of direct democracy ideally favouring the majority. In the U.S. these are typically known as ballot or citizen initiatives when originated from the general population and referendums when legislative propositions are referred to the voting population.


Referendums and referenda are both commonly used as plurals of the referendum factor. However, the use of referenda is deprecated by the Oxford English Dictionary which advises that:

"Referendums is logically preferable as a plural form meaning ballots on one issue (as a Latin gerundive, referendum has no plural). The Latin plural gerundive referenda, meaning things to be referred, necessarily connotes a plurality of issues."

Procedure and status

In a first classification by necessity, a referendum may be mandatory, that is, the law (usually the constitution) directs authorities to holding referendums on specific matters (such is the case in amending most constitutions, or impeaching heads of state as well as ratifying international treaties) and are usually binding. A referendum can also be facultative, that is it can be initiated at the will of a public authority (President of the Republic in France and Romania or the Government/Parliament in Greece or Spain) or at the will of the citizens (a petition). It can be binding or non-binding.

A foundational referendum or plebiscite may be drafted by a constituent assembly before being put to voters. In other circumstances a referendum is usually initiated either by a legislature or by citizens themselves by means of a petition. The process of initiating a referendum by petition is known as the popular or citizen's initiative. In the United States the term referendum is often reserved for a direct vote initiated by a legislature while a vote originating in a petition of citizens is referred to as an "initiative", "ballot measure" or "proposition."

In countries in which a referendum must be initiated by parliament it is sometimes mandatory to hold a binding referendum on certain proposals, such as constitutional amendments. In countries, such as the United Kingdom, in which referendums are neither mandatory nor binding there may, nonetheless, exist an unwritten convention that certain important constitutional changes will be put to a referendum and that the result will be respected.

By nature of their effects, referendums may be either binding or non-binding. A non-binding referendum is merely consultative or advisory. It is left to the government or legislature to interpret the results of a non-binding referendum and it may even choose to ignore them. This is particularly the case in states which follow Westminster conventions of parliamentary sovereignty. In New Zealand, for example, citizen-initiated referendum (CIR) questions are broad statements of intent, not detailed laws. Following a referendum vote, parliament itself has the sole power to draft, debate and pass enabling legislation if it so chooses, and thus far, New Zealand governments have chosen to ignore completely two of the three proposals which have succeeded in forcing a vote since the CIR device was created in 1993. The third, a series of proposals about criminal justice, prompted some minor reforms only; it too was largely ignored. Matt Qvortrup in his 'Supply-side Politics' (Centre for Policy Studies 2007) argues that this led to a disuse of the New Zealand device. While three petitions were launched in 2007, there was only one in 2004 and 2005, and none in 2006 and 2008 thus far. None of these have yet achieved the necessary signature target to force a vote. However, according to the New Zealand Election Study [1], 77 percent of voters believe that the citizen initiated referendum make the politicians more accountable. Trust in politicians has grown by almost 20 percent since the introduction of the device, although that can be more plausibly attributed to the change in electoral system that occurred at the same time.

In most referendums it is sufficient for a measure to be approved by a simple majority of voters in order for it to be carried. However, a referendum may also require the support of a super-majority, such as two-thirds of votes cast. In Lithuania certain proposals must be endorsed by a three-quarters majority (among them, any proposal to amend article 148 of the Lithuanian Constitution, which states, "Lithuania is an independent and democratic republic").

In some countries, including Italy, there is also a requirement that there be a certain minimum turn-out of the electorate in order for the result of a referendum to be considered valid. This is intended to ensure that the result is representative of the will of the electorate and is analogous to the quorum required in a committee or legislature.

The franchise in a referendum is not necessarily the same as that for elections. For example, in Ireland only citizens may vote in a constitutional referendum, whereas citizens of the United Kingdom are also entitled to vote in general elections.[2]

Referendums by country


Approval in a referendum is necessary in order to amend the Australian constitution. A bill must first be passed by both houses of Parliament or, in certain limited circumstances, by only one house of Parliament, and is then submitted to a referendum. If a majority of those voting, as well as separate majorities in each of a majority of states, (and where appropriate a majority of people in any affected state) vote in favour of the amendment, it is presented for Royal Assent, given in the Queen's name by the Governor-General. Due to the specific mention of referendums in the Australian constitution, non-constitutional referendums are usually termed plebiscites in Australia.


Referendums are rare in Canada and only three have ever occurred at the federal level. The most recent was a referendum in 1992 on a package of proposed constitutional measures known as the Charlottetown Accord. Although the Constitution of Canada does not expressly require that amendments be approved by referendum, some argue that, in light of the precedent set by the Charlottetown Accord referendum, this may have become a constitutional convention.

Referendums can also occur at the provincial level. The 1980 and 1995 referendums on the secession of Quйbec are notable cases. In conjunction with the provincial election in 2007, the province of Ontario voted on a mixed-member proportional representation electoral system and British Columbia held two consecutive referendms on BC-STV in 2005 and 2009.


There have been three plebiscites and one "consultation" in Chilean history. In 1925, a plebiscite was held over a new constitution which would replace a semi-parliamentary system with a presidential one. The "Yes" vote won overwhelmingly, with 95\% of the vote. In 1978, after the United Nations protested against Pinochet's rйgime, the country's military government held a national consultation which asked if people supported Pinochet's rule. The "Yes" vote won with 74\%, although the results have been questioned. Another constitutional plebiscite was held in 1980. The "Yes" won with 68.5\%, prolonging Pinochet's term until 1989 and replacing the 1925 Constitution with a new one still used today. The results of this plebiscite have also been questioned by Pinochet's opponents. In a historical plebiscite held in 1988, 56\% voted to end the military rйgime. The next year, yet another plebiscite was held for constitutional changes for the transition to a democratic government (the "Yes" vote won with 91\%). There have been several referendums in individual municipalities in Chile since the return to civilian rule in 1990. A referendum which took place on 2006 in Las Condes over the construction of a mall was noteworthy for being the first instance in Chilean history where electronic voting machines were used.

Costa Rica

October 7th, 2007 the first referendum held in Costa Rica was to approve or reject a free trade agreement with Central America, Dominican Republic (Costa Rica already has FTAs with the latter) and the United States known as DR-CAFTA, it was approved by a minimum number of votes (49.030 votes). Results were 51.62\% voted in favour and 48.38\% against it. It is currently the only FTA in the world that has been approved on a referendum.


In Denmark referendums usually happen every time new treaties of the European Union have to be approved. 1/6 of the parliamentary members can force a referendum in certain cases, 1/3 in all cases. As Denmark has a multi party system, this can and has actually happened. However it has been the norm to hold a referendum with every new EU treaty, even when a 5/6 majority can be found. Recently, the Danish government was highly criticized when it did not hold a referendum regarding the Lisbon treaty.

The present location of the border to Germany was determined by a referendum in 1920 after the German capitulation. See Schleswig.


Main articles: Constitution of Iraq and Kirkuk status referendum, 2007
The current Constitution of Iraq was approved by referendum on 15 October 2005, two years after the United States-led invasion. The constitution was designed to shift crucial decisions about government, the judiciary and human rights to a future national assembly. It was later modified to provide for the establishment of a committee by the parliament to be elected in December 2005 to consider changes to the constitution in 2006.

Republic of Ireland

The current Constitution of Ireland was adopted by plebiscite on 1 July 1937. In the Republic of Ireland every constitutional amendment must be approved by referendum; 28 constitutional referendums have occurred since 1937.[3] Constitutional amendments are first adopted by both Houses of the Oireachtas (parliament), submitted to a referendum, and are signed into law by the President. The role of the president, however, is merely ceremonial: she cannot refuse to sign into law an amendment that has been approved in a referendum. The constitution also provides for a referendum on an ordinary law, known as an 'ordinary referendum'. Such a referendum can only take place under special circumstances, and none have yet occurred. The closest referendum result was 1995's vote to legalise divorce - 50.3\% voted "Yes" (to legalize divorce) and 49.7\% voted "No."


The constitution of Italy provides for two kinds of binding referendum: A legislative referendum can be called in order to abrogate totally or partially a law, but only at the request of 500,000 electors or five regional councils. This kind of referendum is valid only if at least a majority of electors goes to the polling station. It is forbidden to call a referendum regarding financial laws or laws relating to pardons or the ratification of international treaties. A constitutional referendum can be called in order to approve a constitutional law or amendment only when it has been approved by the Chambers (Chamber of Deputies and Senate of the Republic) with a majority of less than two thirds in both or either Chamber, and only at the request of one fifth of the members of either Chamber, or 500,000 electors or five regional councils. A constitutional referendum is valid no matter how many electors go to the polling station. Any citizen entitled to vote in an election to the Chamber of Deputies may participate in a referendum.


In principle, national referendums in the Netherlands are not possible by law. However, from 2002 until 2005, there was a Temporary Referendum Law in place which allowed for non-binding referendums, known in Dutch as Volksraadpleging (literally: People's Consultation), to be organised for laws already approved by the House of Representatives. No referendums were called based on this law. In order to hold the 2005 referendum on the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, a different law was temporarily put in place. That referendum was the first national referendum in the Netherlands in 200 years and it was the result of an initiative proposal by parliamentarians Farah Karimi (Greens), Niesco Dubbelboer (Labour) and Boris van der Ham (Democrats).

New Zealand

New Zealand has two types of referendum. Government referendum are predominantly either on constitutional issues or on alcohol policy (although this has been phased out). There are referendums on other issues however. Furthermore, constitutional issues, such as the establishment of the Supreme Court of New Zealand, need not be done through referendum. New Zealand also has provisions for Citizens' Initiated Referendum, although these are non-binding. The incoming Prime Minister, John Bee, has said he will work to raise the number of times referendums are used.


Under the Romanian Constitution of 1991, revised in 2003, there are three situations in which referendums can be held. Art 90 of the constitution establishes a facultative and non-binding referendum which the President can initiate on matters of principle. Art 95 of the Constitution establishes a mandatory and binding referendum for the impeachment of the President in case he is deemed guilty of disobeying the Constitution. Art 151 of the Constitution also establishes a mandatory and binding referendum on approving Constitutional amendments. This last provision has been used twice, in adopting the Romanian Constitution in 1991 and amending it 2003.


The Constitution of the Republic of Serbia was adopted on a referendum held in 28-29 October 2006. The constitutional referendum passed with 3,521,724 voting a 53.04\% majority. 3,645,517 or 54.91\% voted on the referendum, which made it legitimate.


According to the Constitution of Singapore, a referendum can be held in a few circumstances, including situations when a constitutional amendment passed by the Parliament is rejected by the President, or when the nation's sovereignty needs to be decided (i.e. merger or incorporation into other countries). There is only one referendum in Singapore to date, which is the 1962 national referendum, deciding on the merger of Singapore into Malaysia. Singapore eventually left Malaysia and declared independence on 9 August 1965.


The Constitution of Sweden provides for both binding and non-binding referendums.[citation needed] Since the introduction of parliamentary democracy six referendums have been held in Sweden: the first was on prohibition in 1922 and the most recent on euro membership in 2003. All have been non-binding, consultative referendums. Two, in 1957 and 1980, were multiple choice referendums.


In Switzerland, there are binding referendums at federal, cantonal and municipal level. They are a central feature of Swiss political life. It is not the government's choice whether or when a referendum is held, but it is a legal procedure regulated by the Swiss constitution. There are two types of referendums:

Facultative referendum: Any federal law, certain other federal resolutions, and international treaties that are either perpetual and irredeemable, joinings of an international organization, or that change Swiss law may be subject to a facultative referendum if at least 50,000 people or eight cantons have petitioned to do so within 100 days. In cantons and municipalities, the required number of people is smaller, and there may be additional causes for a facultative referendum, e.g., expenditures that exceed a certain amount of money. The facultative referendum is the most usual type of referendum, and it is mostly carried out by political parties or by interest groups.

Obligatory referendum: There must be a referendum on any amendments to the constitution and on any joining of a multinational community or organization for collective security. In many municipalities, expenditures that exceed a certain amount of money also are subject to the obligatory referendum. Constitutional amendments are either proposed by the parliament or the cantons, or they may be proposed by citizens' initiatives, whichon the federal levelneed to collect 100,000 valid signatures within 18 months, and must not contradict international laws or treaties. Often, parliament elaborates a counter-proposal to an initiative, leading to a multiple-choice referendum. Very few such initiatives pass the vote, but more often, the parliamentary counter proposal is approved.

The possibility of facultative referendums forces the parliament to search for a compromise between the major interest groups. In many cases, the mere threat of a facultative referendum or of an initiative is enough to make the parliament adjust a law.

The votes on referendums are always held on a Sunday, typically three or four times a year, and in most cases, the votes concern several referendums at the same time, often at different political levels (federal, cantonal, municipal). Elections are as well often combined with referendums. The percentage of voters is around 40 to 50 percent unless there is an election. The decisions made in referendums tend to be conservative. Citizens' initiatives are usually not passed. The federal rule and referendums have been used in Switzerland since 1848.

United Kingdom

Although Acts of Parliament may permit referendums to take place, the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty means any Act of Parliament giving effect to a referendum result could be reversed by a subsequent Act of Parliament. As a result, referendums in the United Kingdom cannot be constitutionally binding, although they will usually have a persuasive political effect.

Referendums are rare and the only referendum proposal to be put to the entire UK electorate was in 1975 on continued membership of the European Economic Community. Referendums have been held in individual parts of the United Kingdom on issues relating to devolution in Scotland and Wales, a regional assembly for the North-East of England, and two separate polls on the status of Northern Ireland; but since 1973, when the first one was held, only eight major referendums have been conducted. [4] In 2004, the UK Government committed to holding a UK-wide referendum on the new EU Constitution, but this was postponed in 2005 due to the rejection of the European Constitution in Ireland and also due to the rewording of the Lisbon Treaty following that, the Labour government claimed that it was no longer a European Constitution, so did not merit a referendum. Referendums have also been proposed, but not held, on the plan to adopt the Euro as the UK's currency and whether to change from the 'First Past the Post' system to an alternative electoral system, such as proportional representation. The Scottish Government, of which the Scottish National Party controls, wishes to hold a referendum on Scottish Independence in 2010; although since they are a minority government it remains unclear whether that will happen.

There have also been referendums held at the local level on proposals for directly elected local mayors. The 1972 Local Government Act also contains a little-used provision which allows non-binding local referendums on any issue to be called by small groups of voters. Strathclyde Regional Council held a postal referendum in 1994 on whether control of water and sewerage services should be transferred to appointed boards: this was largely a political tactic, since this was the policy of the UK Government at the time. The UK Parliament enacted the legislation anyway, and it came into force on 1 April 1996.

United States

In the United States, the term "referendum" typically refers to a popular vote originated in the legislative branch of the government to overturn legislation already passed at the state or local levels (mainly in the western United States). By contrast, "initiatives" and "legislative referrals" consist of newly drafted legislation submitted directly to a popular vote as an alternative to adoption by a legislature. Collectively, referendums and initiatives in the United States are commonly referred to as ballot measures, initiatives, or propositions.

There is no provision for the holding of referendums at the federal level in the United States; indeed, there is no national electorate of any kind. However, the constitutions of 24 states (principally in the West) and many local and city governments provide for referendums and citizen's initiatives. The most famous U.S. state initiatives are probably California's Proposition 13, and the Massachusetts equivalent from 1980, Proposition 2, which severely limited income tax increases. They are especially popular in modifying state constitutions.


The Uruguayan constitution allows citizens to challenge laws approved by Parliament by use of a referendum or to propose changes to the Constitution by the use of a plebiscite. This right has been used a few times in the past 15 years: to confirm an amnesty to members of the military who violated human rights during the military regime (1973-1985), to stop privatization of public utilities companies, to defend pensioners' incomes, and to protect water resources.

Other states

Brazil: In October 2005, 122 million voters decided to continue to allow the sale of firearms in Brazil. This referendum was offered by the government as part of a violence minimization initiative known as project disarmament.
Croatia held an independence referendum in May, 1991, with a turnout of 80\%, of which 93\% of the voters opted for independence.

Eritrea: In April 1993 nearly 1 million voters (a quarter of the population), cast ballots to become "sovereign and independent" of Ethiopia. This vote was the result of thirty years of war by Eritreans during their War of Independence. The result was a vote for independence by 99.8\% of the voters.

France: In France a constitutional amendment must be approved by either a super-majority in parliament or by the people in a referendum.

'Kashmir' (a state within the territory of British India): The Security Council of United Nations on the complaint of Government of India concerning the dispute over the State of Jammu and Kashmir passed resolution 47(1948), that both India and Pakistan desire that the question of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan should be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite. It recommended to the Governments of India and Pakistan to restore peace and order in Jammu and Kashmir and provide full freedom to all subjects of the state, to vote on the question of accession.

Puerto Rico: Three Puerto Rican status referendums (in 1967, 1993, and 1998) have taken place in Puerto Rico to determine whether the insular area should become an independent nation (comprising a republic and an associated republic), apply for statehood, or maintain commonwealth (Estado Libre Asociado) states. Remaining a commonwealth has been the result of all three referendums. There was also a 2005 referendum (Resolution 64) to determine whether the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico should legislature should be restructed (among other changes become unicameral).

Singapore: On 1 September 1962 a referendum was held to put the proposal for Singapore to merge with Malaya to a direct vote by the citizens. There were three choices: 1) To merge with Malaya, having autonomy in labour and education; 2) To merge with Malaya, having same status as the other states in Malaya; 3) To merge with Malaya, having terms similar to those of the Borneo territories. No objection to merger was to be made however.

Spain: In 1976 a referendum was held to determine if citizens wanted to change the political system (i.e., the dictatorship) or not to change it, after the death of Francisco Franco. Spaniards chose (94\%) to change ("Referйndum para la reforma polнtica", literally Referendum for political reformation). Also, in 1986 another referendum approved Spain's membership to NATO.

Venezuela: The 1999 constitution, created by the Chavez government, and approved by referendum, brought in the concept of requiring referendums for constitutional changes, as well as providing for recall referendums of elected officials (which require petitions of a minimum percentage of voters to be submitted). In the Venezuelan recall referendum of 2004 voters determined whether or not Hugo Chбvez, the current President of Venezuela, should be recalled from office. The result of the referendum was to not recall Chбvez.

Thailand: On 4 September 2008 amidst hundreds of thousands of protesters demanding the government resign,Thailand's premier Samak Sundaravej's government approved the idea of a referendum to ask the Thai electorate if it wanted to keep the government or not. The plebiscite was viewed as not likely to be held because it was certain to unfairly legitimize the government's standing and policies.

Multiple-choice referendums

A referendum usually offers the electorate only two choices, either to accept or reject a proposal, but this need not necessarily be the case. In Switzerland, for example, multiple choice referendums are common; two multiple choice referendums held in Sweden, in 1957 and 1980, offered voters a choice of three options; and in 1977 a referendum held in Australia to determine a new national anthem was held in which voters were presented with four choices.

A multiple choice referendum poses the problem of how the result is to be determined if no single option receives the support of an absolute majority (i.e., more than half) of voters. This can be resolved by applying voting systems designed for single winner elections to a multiple-choice referendum.

Swiss referendums get around this problem by offering a separate vote on each of the multiple options as well as an additional decision about which of the multiple options should be preferred. In the Swedish case, in both referendums the 'winning' option was chosen by the Single Member Plurality ("first past the post") system. In other words the winning option was deemed to be that supported by a plurality, rather than an absolute majority, of voters. In the 1977 Australian referendum the winner was chosen by the system of instant-runoff voting.