referendum and initiative
Electoral devices by which voters express their wishes regarding government policy or proposed legislation. Obligatory referenda are those required by law. Optional referenda are put on the ballot when a sufficient number of voters sign a petition demanding that a law passed by the legislature be ratified by the people. Obligatory and optional referenda should be distinguished from the voluntary referenda that legislatures submit to voters to decide an issue or to test public opinion. Initiatives are used to invoke a popular vote on a proposed law or constitutional amendment. Direct initiatives are submitted directly to the public after approval by a required number of voters; indirect initiatives are submitted to the legislature. Switzerland has held about half the world's national referenda. Referenda also are common at the local and state level in the U.S. In the late 20th century, referenda were employed more frequently, particularly in Europe, to decide public policy on voting systems, treaties and peace agreements (e.g., the Maastricht Treaty), and social issues. See also plebiscite.
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