Referendum

Last updated

A referendum (plural: referendums or less commonly referenda) is a direct and universal vote in which an entire electorate is invited to vote on a particular proposal and can have nationwide or local forms. This may result in the adoption of a new policy or specific law. In some countries, it is synonymous with a plebiscite or a vote on a ballot question.

Contents

Some definitions of 'plebiscite' suggest it is a type of vote to change the constitution or government of a country. [1] The word, 'referendum' is often a catchall, used for both legislative referrals and initiatives. Australia defines 'referendum' as a vote to change the constitution and 'plebiscite' as a vote which does not affect the constitution. [2] whereas in Ireland, 'plebiscite' referred to the vote to adopt its constitution, but a subsequent vote to amend the constitution is called a 'referendum', as is a poll of the electorate on a non-constitutional bill.

Etymology and plural form

'Referendum' is the gerundive form of the Latin verb refero, literally "to carry back" (from the verb fero, "to bear, bring, carry" [3] plus the inseparable prefix re-, here meaning "back" [4] ). As a gerundive is an adjective, [5] not a noun, [6] it cannot be used alone in Latin, and must be contained within a context attached to a noun such as Propositum quod referendum est populo, "A proposal which must be carried back to the people". The addition of the verb sum (3rd person singular, est) to a gerundive, denotes the idea of necessity or compulsion, that which "must" be done, rather than that which is "fit for" doing. Its use as a noun in English is not considered a strictly grammatical usage of a foreign word, but is rather a freshly coined English noun, which follows English grammatical usage, not Latin grammatical usage. This determines the form of the plural in English, which according to English grammar should be "referendums". The use of "referenda" as a plural form in English (treating it as a Latin word and attempting to apply to it the rules of Latin grammar) is unsupportable according to the rules of both Latin and English grammar. The use of "referenda" as a plural form is posited hypothetically as either a gerund or a gerundive by the Oxford English Dictionary , which rules out such usage in both cases as follows: [7]

Referendums is logically preferable as a plural form meaning 'ballots on one issue' (as a Latin gerund, [8] referendum has no plural). The Latin plural gerundive 'referenda', meaning 'things to be referred', necessarily connotes a plurality of issues. [9]

It is closely related to agenda, "those matters which must be driven forward", from ago, to drive (cattle); and memorandum, "that matter which must be remembered", from memoro, to call to mind, corrigenda, from rego, to rule, make straight, those things which must be made straight (corrected), etc.

Earliest use

The name and use of the 'referendum' is thought to have originated in the Swiss canton of Graubünden as early as the 16th century. [10] [11]

The term 'plebiscite' has a generally similar meaning in modern usage, and comes from the Latin plebiscita, which originally meant a decree of the Concilium Plebis (Plebeian Council), the popular assembly of the Roman Republic. Today, a referendum can also often be referred to as a plebiscite, but in some countries the two terms are used differently to refer to votes with differing types of legal consequences. For example, Australia defines 'referendum' as a vote to change the constitution, and 'plebiscite' as a vote that does not affect the constitution. [2] In contrast, Ireland has only ever held one plebiscite, which was the vote to adopt its constitution, and every other vote has been called a referendum. Plebiscite has also been used to denote a non-binding vote count such as the one held by Nazi Germany to 'approve' in retrospect the so-called Anschluss with Austria, the question being not 'Do you permit?' but rather 'Do you approve?' of that which has most definitely already occurred.

Typology

The term referendum covers a variety of different meanings. A referendum can be binding or advisory. [12] In some countries, different names are used for these two types of referendum.

Referendums can be further classified by who initiates them: mandatory referendums prescribed by law, voluntary referendums initiated by the legislature or government, and referendums initiated by citizens. [13]

A deliberative referendum is a referendum specifically designed to improve the deliberative qualities of the campaign preceding the referendum vote, and/or of the act of voting itself.

Rationale

From a political-philosophical perspective, referendums are an expression of direct democracy, but today, most referendums need to be understood within the context of representative democracy. They tend to be used quite selectively, covering issues such as changes in voting systems, where currently elected officials may not have the legitimacy or inclination to implement such changes.

Referendums by country

Since the end of the 18th century, hundreds of national referendums have been organised in the world; [14] almost 600 national votes were held in Switzerland since its inauguration as a modern state in 1848. [15] Italy ranked second with 72 national referendums: 67 popular referendums (46 of which were proposed by the Radical Party), 3 constitutional referendums, one institutional referendum and one advisory referendum. [16]

Multiple-choice referendums

A referendum usually offers the electorate a choice of accepting or rejecting a proposal, but not always. Some referendums give voters the choice among multiple choices and some use transferable voting.

In Switzerland, for example, multiple choice referendums are common. Two multiple choice referendums were held in Sweden, in 1957 and in 1980, in which voters were offered three options. In 1977, a referendum held in Australia to determine a new national anthem was held in which voters had four choices. In 1992, New Zealand held a five-option referendum on their electoral system. In 1982, Guam had referendum that used six options, with an additional blank option for those wishing to (campaign and) vote for their own seventh option.

A multiple choice referendum poses the question of how the result is to be determined. They may be set up so that if no single option receives the support of an absolute majority (more than half) of the votes, resort can be made to the two-round system or instant-runoff voting, which is also called IRV and PV.

In 2018 the Irish Citizens' Assembly considered the conduct of future referendums in Ireland, with 76 of the members in favour of allowing more than two options, and 52% favouring preferential voting in such cases. [17] Other people regard a non-majoritarian methodology like the Modified Borda Count (MBC) as more inclusive and more accurate.

Swiss referendums offer 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 preferential instant-runoff voting (IRV). Polls in Newfoundland (1949) and Guam (1982), for example, were counted under a form of the two-round system, and an unusual form of TRS was used in the 1992 New Zealand poll.

Although California has not held multiple-choice referendums in the Swiss or Swedish sense (in which only one of several counter-propositions can be victorious, and the losing proposals are wholly null and void), it does have so many yes-or-no referendums at each Election Day that conflicts arise. The State's Constitution provides a method for resolving conflicts when two or more inconsistent propositions are passed on the same day. This is a de facto form of approval voting—i.e. the proposition with the most "yes" votes prevails over the others to the extent of any conflict.

Another voting system that could be used in multiple-choice referendum is the Condorcet rule.

Criticisms

Criticism of populist aspect

Pro-Russian protesters in Odessa, Ukraine, demanding a referendum, March 30, 2014 Odessa Russian Sring 20140330 07.JPG
Pro-Russian protesters in Odessa, Ukraine, demanding a referendum, March 30, 2014
2015 Greek bailout referendum Demonstration for "NO" vote Syntagma square Athens, Greece 20150703 Greek Referendum Demonstration for NO syntagma square Athens Greece.jpg
2015 Greek bailout referendum Demonstration for "NO" vote Syntagma square Athens, Greece

Critics[ who? ] of the referendum argue that voters in a referendum are more likely to be driven by transient whims than by careful deliberation, or that they are not sufficiently informed to make decisions on complicated or technical issues. Also, voters might be swayed by propaganda, strong personalities, intimidation, and expensive advertising campaigns. James Madison argued that direct democracy is the "tyranny of the majority".

Some opposition to the referendum has arisen from its use by dictators such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini who, it is argued, [18] used the plebiscite to disguise oppressive policies as populism. Dictators may also make use of referendums as well as show elections to further legitimize their authority such as António de Oliveira Salazar in 1933, Benito Mussolini in 1934, Adolf Hitler in 1936, Francisco Franco in 1947, Park Chung-hee in 1972, and Ferdinand Marcos in 1973. Hitler's use of plebiscites is argued[ by whom? ] as the reason why, since World War II, there has been no provision in Germany for the holding of referendums at the federal level.

In recent years, referendums have been used strategically by several European governments trying to pursue political and electoral goals. [19]

In 1995, Bruton considered that

All governments are unpopular. Given the chance, people would vote against them in a referendum. Therefore avoid referendums. Therefore don’t raise questions which require them, such as the big versus the little states. [20] .

Closed questions and the separability problem

Some critics of the referendum attack the use of closed questions. A difficulty called the separability problem can plague a referendum on two or more issues. If one issue is in fact, or in perception, related to another on the ballot, the imposed simultaneous voting of first preference on each issue can result in an outcome which is displeasing to most.

Undue limitations on regular government power

Several commentators have noted that the use of citizens' initiatives to amend constitutions has so tied the government to a jumble of popular demands as to render the government unworkable. A 2009 article in The Economist argued that this had restricted the ability of the California state government to tax the people and pass the budget, and called for an entirely new Californian constitution. [21]

A similar problem also arises when elected governments accumulate excessive debts. That can severely reduce the effective margin for later governments.

Both these problems can be moderated by a combination of other measures as

Sources

See also

Related Research Articles

Switzerland is a semi-direct democratic federal republic. The federal legislative power is vested in the two chambers of the Federal Assembly, the National Council and the Council of States. The Federal Council holds the executive power and is composed of seven power-sharing Federal Councillors elected by the Federal Assembly. The judicial branch is headed by the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland, whose judges are elected by the Federal Assembly.

Initiative Means by which a petition signed by a certain minimum number of registered voters can force a public vote

In political science, an initiative is a means by which a petition signed by a certain minimum number of registered voters can force a government to choose to either enact a law or hold a public vote in parliament in what is called indirect initiative, or under direct initiative, the proposition is immediately put to a plebiscite or referendum, in what is called a Popular initiated Referendum or citizen-initiated referendum.

A constitutional amendment is a modification of the constitution of a polity, organization or other type of entity. Amendments are often interwoven into the relevant sections of an existing constitution, directly altering the text. Conversely, they can be appended to the constitution as supplemental additions (codicils), thus changing the frame of government without altering the existing text of the document.

California ballot proposition statewide referendum item in California

In California, a ballot proposition can be a referendum or an initiative measure that is submitted to the electorate for a direct decision or direct vote. If passed, it can alter one or more of the articles of the Constitution of California, one or more of the 29 California Codes, or another law in the California Statutes by clarifying current or adding statute(s) or removing current statute(s).

Elections in France

France is a representative democracy. Public officials in the legislative and executive branches are either elected by the citizens or appointed by elected officials. Referendums may also be called to consult the French citizenry directly on a particular question, especially one which concerns amendment to the Constitution.

Referendums in Australia

Referendums in Australia are polls held in Australia to approve parliament-proposed changes to the Constitution of Australia or to the constitutions of states and territories. Polls conducted on non-constitutional issues are usually referred to as plebiscites.

Elections in the Philippines

Philippine elections are of several types. The president, vice-president, and the senators are elected for a six-year term, while the members of the House of Representatives, governors, vice-governors, members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, mayors, vice-mayors, members of the Sangguniang Panlungsod/members of the Sangguniang Bayan, barangay officials, and the members of the Sangguniang Kabataan are elected to serve for a three-year term.

In Latin grammar, a gerundive is a verb form that functions as a verbal adjective.

Voting in Switzerland is the process by which Swiss citizens make decisions about governance and elect officials. The polling stations are opened on Saturdays and Sunday mornings but most people vote by post in advance. At noon on Sunday, voting ends and the results are usually known during the afternoon.

A process model is, in the context of the republic debate in Australia, a model for the process by which the questions surrounding whether and how Australia should become a republic may be answered. A number of process models have been processed. Proposed process models are a subject of debate within the Republicanism movement. Such debate usually surrounds whether the people should be asked to choose between the current system and a general republican system of government, one specific republican system of government, or multiple alternative republican systems of government.

Referendums in New Zealand

Referendums are held only occasionally by the Government of New Zealand. Referendums may be government-initiated or held in accordance with the Electoral Act 1993 or the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993. Ten referendums have been held so far. Seven were government-led, and three were indicative citizen initiatives.

Popular referendum referendum to repeal a new or existing law

A popular referendum is a type of a referendum that provides a means by which a petition signed by a certain minimum number of registered voters can force a public vote (plebiscite) on an existing 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.

An interactive democracy or iDemocracy is a type of democracy that encourages direct interaction in order to create a fairer society according to the expressed will of the people.

Puerto Rico Democracy Act Bill of the 111th U.S. Congress

The Puerto Rico Democracy Act is a bill to provide for a federally sanctioned self-determination process for the people of Puerto Rico.

The proposed political status for Puerto Rico encompasses the different schools of thought on whether Puerto Rico, currently a Commonwealth of the United States, should change its current political status. Although there are many differing points of view, there are four that emerge in principle: that Puerto Rico maintains its current status, becomes a state of the United States, becomes fully independent, or becomes a freely associated state.

The Territories Clause of the United States Constitution allows for Congress to "dispose of" Puerto Rico and allow it to become independent of the U.S. or, under the authority of the Admissions Clause for it to be admitted as a state of the United States.

A referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. This article summarises referendum laws and practice in various countries.

The 2016 Plebiscite on Democratic Renewal was a non-binding referendum on electoral reform held in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island between 27 October – 7 November 2016. This was the second electoral reform referendum to be held in Prince Edward Island, following a vote to maintain the status quo in 2005. The referendum asked which of five voting systems residents would prefer to use in electing members to the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island. The referendum, after four instant run-off rounds, indicated mixed member proportional representation was the preferred choice with 55.03% support on the final ballot.

A referendum on the political status of Puerto Rico was held in Puerto Rico on June 11, 2017. The referendum had three options: becoming a state of the United States, independence/free association, or maintaining the current territorial status. Those who voted overwhelmingly chose statehood by 97%; turnout, however, was 23%, a historically low figure. This figure is attributed to a boycott led by the pro-status quo PPD party.

Citizens initiative referendum (France) new right proposition

The Référendum d'initiative Citoyenne is the name given to the proposal for a constitutional amendment in France to permit consultation of the citizenry by referendum concerning the proposition or abrogation of laws, the revocation of politicians' mandates, and constitutional amendment.

References

  1. "Definition of Plebiscite". Oxforddictionaries.com. Retrieved 2016-08-23.
  2. 1 2 Green, Antony (12 August 2015). "Plebiscite or Referendum - What's the Difference". ABC. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  3. Marchant & Charles, Cassell's Latin Dictionary, 1928, p.221
  4. Marchant & Charles, Cassell's Latin Dictionary, 1928, p. 469.
  5. A gerundive is a verbal adjective (Kennedy's Shorter Latin Primer, 1962 edition, p. 91.)
  6. A gerund is a verbal noun (Kennedy's Shorter Latin Primer, 1962 edition, p. 91.) but has no nominative case, for which an infinitive (referre) serves the purpose
  7. Oxford English Dictionary Referendum
  8. a gerund is a verbal noun (Kennedy's Shorter Latin Primer, 1962 edition, p. 91.) but has no nominative case, for which an infinitive (referre) serves the purpose. It has only accusative, genitive, dative and ablative cases (Kennedy's Shorter Latin Primer, 1962 edition, pp. 91-2.)
  9. i.e. Proposita quae referenda sunt popolo, "Proposals which must be carried back to the people"
  10. Barber, Benjamin R.. The Death of Communal Liberty: A History of Freedom in a Swiss Mountain Canton. Princeton University Press, 1974, p. 179.
  11. Vincent, J.M.. State and Federal Government in Switzerland, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009, p. 122
  12. de Vreese, Claes H. (2007). "Context, Elites, Media and Public Opinion in Reerendums: When Campaigns Really Matter". The Dynamics of Referendum Campaigns: An International Perspective. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 2–3. ISBN   9780230591189.
  13. Serdült, Uwe; Welp, Yanina (2012). "Direct Democracy Upside Down" (PDF). Taiwan Journal of Democracy. 8 (1): 69–92. doi:10.5167/uzh-98412.
  14. (in French) Bruno S. Frey et Claudia Frey Marti, Le bonheur. L'approche économique, Presses polytechniques et universitaires romandes, 2013 ( ISBN   978-2-88915-010-6).
  15. Duc-Quang Nguyen (17 June 2015). "How direct democracy has grown over the decades". Berne, Switzerland: swissinfo.ch - a branch of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR. Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  16. "Dipartimento per gli Affari Interni e Territoriali".
  17. "Manner in which referenda are held". Citizens' Assembly. Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  18. Qvortrup, Matt (2013). Direct Democracy: A Comparative Study of the Theory and Practice of Government by the People. Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN   978-0-7190-8206-1.
  19. Sottilotta, Cecilia Emma (2017). "The Strategic Use of Government-Sponsored Referendums in Contemporary Europe: Issues and Implications". Journal of Contemporary European Research. 13 (4): 1361–1376.
  20. Bowcott, Owen; Davies, Caroline (2019-12-31). "Referendums are a bad idea, Irish leader told EU in 1995". The Guardian.
  21. "California: The ungovernable state". The Economist . London. 16–22 May 2009. pp. 33–36.

Further reading