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WikiProject Elections and Referendums (Rated C-class)
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Removal of Five Constituencies Referendum of Hong Kong (2010)[edit]

I would like to suggest the removal of Five Constituencies Referendum of Hong Kong (2010) under the Specific referendums section. The 'referendum' is a by-election only. It is against the referendum definition at the top of the page.

A referendum (also known as a plebiscite or a ballot question) 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. It is a form of direct democracy. The measure put to a vote is known in the U.S. as a ballot proposition or measure.


A plebiscite is directed to all citizens, regardless of their franchise.

What does "regardless of their franchise" mean? ff

If I understand it correctly, some political systems require people to "earn" the right to vote. This right is called a franchise. This may be the acqusition of land, or citizenship, or simply their freedom (from slavery). The novel Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein uses this concept by requiring military service for the right of franchise.


I was struck when reading this entry that there is considerable critical content on referendums, which is good. However, there is a lack of balance, because the usefulness of referendums is not discussed. I don't have the competence to write a lot about the rationale for referendums, but tried to get this going by adding a short section. Could some of you poli-sci types out there build on this a bit? --Reallavergne (talk) 15:12, 22 April 2014 (UTC)

Wording Question[edit]

However, French establishes another distinction. Plebiscite describes a vote on an individual whereas referendum refers to a vote on an issue. Here too, 'plebiscite' will be mainly used for un-democratic states where we are likely to find a cult of personality, and 'referendum' for democratic states.

Is this referring to an author or the French? Can someone please clarify? Nicole Javaly

Referendum vs. plebiscite[edit]

Is there actually any difference between a referendum and a plebiscite except the negative connotation that plebiscites are generally held by dictators? -Will231 (4 Mar, 2004)

There is not difference in MOST languages. However, in historical terms, plebiscites were held by a dictator and usually had no juridical effects (since they were staged or faked). So correlating the 0 juridical effects to a facultative non-binding referendum, sometimes this is called a plebiscite. However this specific conotation is used ad-hoc, and is not general. In general, they are the same. Warfare utf 22:50, 18 June 2006 (UTC)

According to the Macquarie Australian Dictionary,[1] a plebiscite is: a direct vote of the qualified electors of a state in regard to some important public question.

Whereas in Macquarie a referendum is defined as: the principle or procedure of referring or submitting measures proposed or passed by a legislative body to the vote of the electorate for approval or rejection.

A plebiscite cannot be used to amend the Australian constitution[2]. Only a referendum can do that.

eg in 1977, when a new national song ("Advance Australia Fair") was chosen to replace "God Save the Queen" there was a plebiscite, not a referendum. There is nothing in the Constitution regarding either the national song or national flag which needs to be changed.

However, in 1967 there was a referendum on Indigenous Australians which amended section 51 from the Constitution and removed section 127 from the Constitution.

Proword (talk) 08:31, 20 October 2010 (UTC)

As I understand it, Australia is relatively rare in trying to maintain a formal distinction at federal level between referendums on amending the constitution and plebiscites on other matters. However this distinction doesn't seem to apply to the state level - e.g. the votes on both secession and daylight saving in Western Australia are called referendums. Timrollpickering (talk) 22:18, 5 December 2010 (UTC)

I believe plebiscite is an older term. In european history it is associated with dicators (from napoleon to hitler) having rigged votes to provide specious popular legitimacy for their actions.

However, there were also genuine plebiscites, for example after world war 1, when several territories voted on which country they should be attached to. Such votes would obviously have great constitutional significance.

Republic of Ireland[edit]

While it is interesting to know how the constitutional changes are handled in Republic of Ireland, I don't really think it belongs to this article. IMHO this article should be left general with links to such things ... Any opinions? --Romanm 17:45, 23 May 2004 (UTC)

Referendum vs Plebiscite[edit]

The convention described seems to be the reverse of what happens in Australia. My understanding is that we call it a plebiscite when it is advisory and a referendum when it is a binding constitutional matter. I believe the referendum to decide upon the national song was called a national poll. Can anyone comment?

Multiple-choice referenda and Switzerland[edit]

I don't understand what the article is trying to suck us. Multiple-choice referenda are, in fact, quite common in Switzerland, because one typically can vote on the referendum and on a counter-proposal drafted by the parliament. Now, if both fail to get the necessary support, neither is enacted. A tie-breaking question is applied in the case where both the referendum and the counter-proposal are accepted. The article seems to imply that the tie breaker applies when neither passes, which is wrong.

A further note on this: a facultative referendum passes if it gets the support of a majority of votes. An obligatory (mandatory) referendum needs not only an overall majority, but also needs to pass in a majority of cantons (the so-called Ständemehr). Lupo 10:17, 25 Apr 2005 (UTC)

Some more: Citizen's initiatives are subject to the obligatory referendum, if they are considered valid by the parliament. An initiative can be rejected by the parliament as invalid for formal reasons, but also if it would demand changes contradicting international law or treaties. Tie-breaking in an obligatory referendum is tricky, because a double majority of votes and cantons is needed. If one option gets a majority of votes, but the other option gets the majority of cantons, the option is chosen where the sum of the percentages of votes and cantons in the tie-breaker question is higher. Lupo 10:26, 25 Apr 2005 (UTC)

Lupo, I'd like to improve the wording in the article so can I ask you to clarify the Swiss system for me? As I understand you you're saying that:

  • A "multiple choice" referendum is only ever held on two options, and these are always an initiative and a government counter-proposal. There are no "multiple choice" votes on 3 options or more.
  • If both options pass a "tiebreaker" vote is held, and the proposal that loses the tie-breaker is then disregarded while the winner becomes law.

Do I have this right? Also just to make sure I understand the tie-breaker system. Suppose there are two options: A and B. Both pass and a tiebreaker is held. The results in the tiebreaker are:

  • A is supported by 45% Voters + 60% Cantons = 105% overall
  • B is supported by 55% Voters + 40% Cantons = 95% overall

So A wins the tie-breaker. Is this what you mean by the "option is chosen where the sum of the percentages of votes and cantons in the tie-breaker question is higher"? Iota 16:00, 25 Apr 2005 (UTC)

Right on all counts, as far as I can see. Multiple choice occurs when there is an initiative and a governmental counter-proposal to vote on. You get three questions:
A: Do you vote yes on initiative X? (Yes/No/Empty)
B: Do you vote yes on the counter-proposal? (Yes/No/Empty)
Tie breaker (Stichfrage): In the case that both the initiative and the counter-proposal pass, shall (A) the initiative or (B) the counter-proposal become effective? (A/B/Empty)
Now, typically people who vote Yes on 1 and No on 2 will vote A on the tie-breaker (3), and likewise a No on 1 and Yes on 2 results in a B at 3. Still, the tie-breaker may have a different percentage of A-votes than question 1 alone: people voting Yes on both 1 and 2 are equally likely to put A or B in the tie-breaker. And people voting No on both 1 and 2 may still answer the tie-breaker with A or B to indicate a preference for the lesser evil (as they may perceive it...). Your example looks good, but only for the tie-breaker. If those were the percentages for questions 1 and 2, respectively, both would have failed.
BTW, I have no idea what would happen if the tie-breaker was tied... However, tie-breaking is extremely rare. The text of the relevant paragraphs of the Swiss constitution is available online in German, French, and Italian. Lupo 19:03, 25 Apr 2005 (UTC)

Quorum ?[edit]

I question the following paragraph in its fastidious refusal to use the word "quorum" to describe the minimum threshold for a referendum:

In some countries 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.

It's not analagous to a quorum; it is a quorum. The current media discussion of the Italian stem-cell referendum discusses it "failing to reach a quorum", not "failing to reach a minimum threshold" or "failing to reach a 'quorum'". Granted, the quorum article restricts the definition to "deliberative bodies"; however I think the reason is that few English-speaking jurisdictions which provide for referendums establish thresholds, so the question rarely arises; nevertheless, when it does, the word "quorum" is not used freely. I suggest both referendum and quorum be amended accordingly. Joestynes 08:01, 14 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Student Union's often have a quorum for referendums Jonwelch 08:59, 9 April 2006 (UTC)


Would it not be good to insert a section for the Iraq referendum? 22:26, 17 October 2005 (UTC)

A Supermajority is not democratic![edit]

In British Columbia, we had a referendum to change the voting system from first past the post to single transferable vote. STV required a supermajority of 60% to win. STV got 58% Here is the problem. 40 votes for first past the post equals the value of 60 votes for stv. That means 1 vote for first past the post is worth 1.5 votes for STV AND that runs COUNTER to 1 person 1 vote which stands at the heart of democracy. This is not a soapbox issue. This is a simple math and education issue. Simply put supermajority requirements VIOLATE one person one vote and therefore they run counter to basic democratic principles! Brian White

Although oddly put, I agree, Brian. What you are trying to say, I think, is that if politicians can justify electing individual MLAs with less than a majority (in theory, if there were 20 candidates and they were practically all even, the one with 5.1 percent of the vote could win!), then they cannot justify rejecting an "overwhelming" 58 percent in favour of STV. They are hypocrites. If they can't accept that 58 percent as a mandate from the people, then every MLA (73 of the 79) with less than 60 percent of the votes must resign and run in byelection, and keep holding byelections until someone wins with 60 percent or more. In other words, live by the rules you're making the people live by! GBC 01:39, 7 December 2005 (UTC)

I dont think it is oddly put at all.There can only be one definition of majority. 50% +1. If you require more than that in a referendum, it is exactly the same as giving voters on one side of the argument a vote of greater value than one. If the ¨supermajority¨ is 60%, it is the same as giving voters on one side 1.5 votes each. if it is 75%, it is the same as giving voters on one side 3 votes each! (it takes 75% to beat 25% that means each vote in the 25% group is worth 3 votes in the majority group. This is fundimentally antidemocratic and wikipedia needs to show that fact. The claim that supermajority requirements protect minoritys is an illusion too. Suppose a referendum recognises the rights of a minority but requires the 60% supermajority, then we have the supermajority requirement making the protection of the minority more difficult! Brian

The reason is that the main reason for a referendum is some major change, either controversial or constitutional (or both), where it is not terribly stable to let something pass on a simple "50% of those voting plus 1" because there's the risk that at the first sign of a shift in public opinion those on the losing side will try to get it overturned in a further vote. (Or worse - civil disobedience and a refusal to abide by something that "has been rejected by the people".) It is the age old question of how to combine democracy, efficiency and acceptance. Supermajorities ensure that any change in public opinion on the matter has to be substantial.
It's not quite the same thing as electing members of an assembly, because a referendum will always have a practical outcome - pass or fail. Trying to apply the rule to electing an assembly creates the problem that you'd get no member elected and endless ballots (and probably plummeting turnout).
As for minority protection, often countries with recognised minorities at formation will have protections for those minorities built into the constitution - hence the idea that the supermajority requirement to change the constitution protects the minority. Historically in most democracies minority groups have received better protection from elected politicians making laws in assemblies than from the rampant populism of referendums. It's rare for a referendum to improve a minority situation although there are exceptions - for example the 1967 Australian referendum that removed the clause barring the Commonwealth parliament from making specific laws for Aboriginal Australians, although even that is confused as it was originally put in to protect Aboriginal Australians from negative legislation but by the 1960s was considered a bar to positive legislation. (The Australian "supermajority" requirement is that the referendum must have a simple majority of all voters PLUS it must pass in at least four states - to protect the smaller states from domination by New South Wales and Victoria. Indeed most popular majority, insufficient states results have the measure passing in NSW & Vic.) Timrollpickering (talk) 10:21, 16 October 2008 (UTC)

AZ prop 200 (1996) and prop 300 (1998)[edit]

There were issues getting these referendums put into law.
~ender 2006-03-07 17:09:PM MST

Criticism Position[edit]

The Criticism is far to close to the beginning of this article. This is an encylopedia, and this article should explain in detail what a referendum is and then show criticisms of them. I am moving the section to the bottom. Travis Cleveland 11:13, 4 May 2007 (UTC)

I find it odd that there is a Criticism section (great!) but no section on when and how referendums make sense. This seems unbalanced to me. --Reallavergne (talk) 14:55, 22 April 2014 (UTC)

Lack of Historical Perspective[edit]

This article lacks any view of the historical perspective of Referenda before the 1970s. What about the use of the plebiscite in early 20th century Europe especially following the First World war. See Category:Referendums by year. Lumos3 17:40, 25 September 2007 (UTC)

Honestly, I think you may be on to something, I believe the the scope of this article needs to be dramatically expanded, and even actually talking about the original Plebiscites of the Roman Republic, many of which were crucial in building the foundations of the modern world. Or would it be more fitting to just make a separate article for plebiscites?--Sire22 (talk) 15:22, 1 February 2008 (UTC)

Referenda in Nazi Germany are only referred to in an aside, not explained. How should an ignorant reader be able to assess the validity of anti-referendum arguments if the events they refer to are omitted? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:06, 19 February 2008 (UTC)

EU is no Country[edit]

I´m living in Germany. & not in a Country called EU. So, if there exists a Country with the Name EU, write down, where it is. & if Organisations like EU count like Countries, UN counts like a Country, too. If UN is no County, EU is no Country, too. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:42, 24 July 2008 (UTC)

upcoming referendums section[edit]

it would be useful. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:02, 1 August 2008 (UTC)

History of the referendum[edit]

What is the earliest referendum to take place?, i assume its from America thats why its not in right.

I can't imagine why it being in America would cause it not to be included, but it wasn't in America anyway. The first referendums were in ancient Athens around 500 BC, and the first referendum in the modern world was in France in 1793 (about whether to adopt their new constitution). (talk) 10:25, 29 January 2009 (UTC)

United Kingdom section contains error[edit]


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 Belgium and France and

Please change Belgium to the Netherlands

Belgium actually ratified the constitution. See bbc source Netherlands was meant by author , which did reject the treaty See bbc source

--Maxm007 (talk) 09:56, 10 September 2009 (UTC)

Done Welcome and thanks for contributing. Celestra (talk) 13:44, 10 September 2009 (UTC)


I am Dutch. The term 'Volksraadpleging' is hardly ever used in this connection. We just say 'Referendum' —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 07:00, 11 September 2009 (UTC)


Is it not "referenda" rather than "referendum"? I know both are used, but which is actually correct? (talk) 21:56, 24 November 2009 (UTC)

"referendum" is the singular, "referendums" is the plural and "referenda" is the product of cod Latin (the word in Latin is a gerund and has no plural in Latin; it's been imported into English as a noun and thus follows the English pluralisation rules). Timrollpickering (talk) 20:02, 21 December 2009 (UTC)


"Iceland held a referendum on 6 March 2010, to vote for whether or not to repay the Icesave dept to United Kingdom and the Neatherlands. The people voted against repaying the debt."

this is not true. the referendum was about the terms of the repayment, not the repayment itself.--Lotsofmagnets (talk) 18:49, 8 April 2010 (UTC)


Add an entry for Greece referendum. Dates so far unknown. Markets fell when the referendum was announced. RadioEverleigh (talk) 14:05, 1 November 2011 (UTC)


All this article and the attached article Popular referendum are a mess. Mormegil (talk) 22:18, 18 July 2012 (UTC)


independence referendum, people can choose 1 of 5 options:

  1. remained under colonial (ex: falklands island remain under united kingdom)
  2. free from colonial (ex: south sudan independence from sudan)
  3. reunited under colonial (ex: timor leste under from stand government became to under from portugal government)
  4. 2/more unification to 1 nation state (ex: west germany and east germany became to germany)
  5. autonomous regions status change (ex: statues of puerto rico from territory became to state)

new constitution or rule referendum, people can choice only 1 from 2 options: yes or no. Akuindo (talk) 04:35, 9 August 2013 (UTC)

Splitting section "Referendums by country" into new article[edit]

WP:SPLIT says: "If [...] a section of an article has a length that is out of proportion to the rest of the article, it is recommended that a split be carried out."

It seems that section "Referendums by country" is far out of proportion with the rest of the article. I have been adding some countries to the list, and will be continuing to do so, so this disproportion will only increase. Therefore, I propose that this section be split into it's own article titled Referendums by country. --JohnnyBallot (talk) 16:58, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

Support – agreed, go ahead. —Ynhockey (Talk) 21:43, 10 November 2013 (UTC)

Executed - after waiting for 2 weeks, this split was executed few minutes ago. --JohnnyBallot (talk) 14:17, 15 November 2013 (UTC)

Referendum vs Plebiscite (new)[edit]

I thought referendum referred to a vote undertaken under a law or constitutional provision (namely authorizing the referendum process) - which, if approved by the electorate, became a law or a constitutional provision ipso facto (i.e. automatically or self-enacting).

While plebiscite was a vote, authorized by the government, not defined by a law or constitution provision, with a process unique to the question - which, if approved or rejected became guidance (or mandate) and which only took real effect with some other action by the government for implementation.

Making them equivalent in the article blurs this useful distinction. This is also the sense in which referendum is described in Initiatives and referendums in the United States - initiative being new law and referendum being amend and repeal. patsw (talk) 14:39, 6 March 2014 (UTC)

The fact is that either or both terms are in use across many countries to mean a popular vote on a political matter regardless of how they've come about or what other actions are needed before they take effect. Here in the UK some votes have needed follow-up legislation - e.g. Scottish devolution - whereas others automatically took effect - e.g. councils having directly elected mayors. All are referendums and the term "plebiscite" is little used outside historical discussion. Conversely in Australia there's a federal distinction between "referendums" that change the constitution and "plebiscites" that are votes on laws and other matters, although at state level they all seem to get called "referendums". It would be false and confusing to start drawing a distinction in terms based on how they're used in just one country. Timrollpickering (talk) 21:45, 8 March 2014 (UTC)

I'm taking no action. Perhaps some other editor with stronger beliefs that I have will add this and mark it as usage unique to the United States of America. patsw (talk) 16:53, 22 March 2014 (UTC)

Folks, this had been discussed before and unfortunately they came to the wrong consensus. I had proposed that the United States categories distinguish between a Referendum (a popular vote to abolish a passed law requiring a petition and signature drive), Initiative (a proposal for a new law requiring a petition and signature drive) , and Recall (a proposal to remove an elected official from office requiring a petition and signature drive). These are the reforms that were established during the Progressive Era on the early 20th century. As it stands the term "referendum" on Wikipedia is being used for the more general concept of just anything that is on a ballot. There is the beginnings of distinguishing between legislatively referred ballot questions and ones resulting from petitions and signature drives, but I gave up on it due to the prevailing consensus of organizing these things the wrong way. Greg Bard (talk) 18:44, 22 March 2014 (UTC)

Should VoteBox™ be under "External links"?[edit]

First the "(tm)" caught my eye. I though of only dropping that. This seems UK specific, but not government run (would be; not sure about links to actual referendums: "VoteBox™ can help run an Online Referendum for any group interested in voting on a local or wider area matter, please contact us for details."

On the main page, it seems I could have voted (I'm from another country..) and still there were numbers given for yes and no.. Linsk where to Facebook (not open to all, I'm not registered) and Twitter. Is this spam? comp.arch (talk) 11:02, 10 November 2016 (UTC)

  1. ^ Macquarie Dictionary 2007
  2. ^