Abrogative Referendum (PCR)
A popular referendum by means of which voters may retain or repeal a law or decree that has been agreed and promulgated by the legislature and already implemented. Such a referendum is known as the people’s veto in the U.S. state of Maine.
Administrative Referendum (PCR)
A popular referendum on an administrative or governmental decision made by parliament. The Finance Referendum is one kind of administrative referendum widely used in Swiss cantons and municipalities.
Admissibility of the Initiative
The legal right to conduct an initiative within the powers of the decision-maker to whom the initiative is addressed. In the context of international law and human rights the admissibility factor is dealt with very differently under different jurisdictions. Whereas in Germany or Hungary, for example, the check on admissibility is carried out before an initiative is registered, in Switzerland (by parliament) or the US (by courts) this is done after the submission of an initiative.
Agenda (setting) Initiative (PAX)
An agenda initiative is the right of a specified number of eligible voters to propose to a competent authority the adoption of a law or measure; the addressee of this proposal and request is not the whole electorate but a representative authority. In contrast to the popular initiative, it is this authority which decides what is going to happen to the proposal.
A requirement for passing a popular vote which takes the form of a minimum number or percentage of the entire electorate whose support is necessary for a proposal to be passed.
Democratic system where eligible voters exercise their political rights in an assembly. Assembly democracy – the original form of democracy in ancient Greece – is widespread in Switzerland. There are citizens’ assemblies in the majority of communes. In two cantons (Glarus and Appenzell Inner-Rhodes), popular assemblies are held at the cantonal level. In Appenzell Outer-Rhodes the citizens voted on an initiative to reinstall the popular assembly in June 2010.
Authorities’ Minority Plebiscite (MTP)
A popular vote procedure and a political right that allows a specified minority of an authority (e.g. one third of the parliament) to put its own proposal on the political agenda and let the people decide on it by a popular vote.
Authorities’ Minority Veto-Plebiscite (MVP)
A popular vote procedure characterized by the right of a minority of a representative authority to put a decision made by the majority in the same authority before the voters for approval or rejection. This procedure enables a minority of a representative authority to step on the brakes and give the final say to the voters.
Ballot initiative (PCI)
Term used in the U.S. to describe a citizens’ initiative. See Popular Initiative.
An issue brought forward to a popular vote by all three types of modern direct democracy, Initiatives, Referendums and Plebiscites.
a) The official ballot paper, on which voters mark or indicate their choice, e.g. indicate with a Yes or No whether they accept or reject the referendum proposal.
b) For elections: The official form which eligible voters must use for elections. For the elections to the Swiss National Council, voters can fill out a special, non preprinted form themselves, and may change the form or make additions to it.
Text which appears on the ballot paper, typically in the form of a question or a series of options. For a referendum it may be a specified question text, or a question seeking agreement or rejection of a text; for an initiative, a question asking for agreement or rejection of a proposal identified by the title of the popular initiative; for a recall, a question asking for agreement or rejection of the early termination of office of a specified office holder.
Description of a popular vote where, if a proposal passes, the government or appropriate authority is legally compelled to implement it.
The term given in the U.S. to a measure – either a popular initiative or a measure referred by the legislative body – that asks voters to authorize borrowing. Bond measures are common in the country because of state and local restrictions on public borrowing without voter approval.
A member state of the Swiss Confederation. The cantons – also frequently referred to in Switzerland as the “states“ – are the original states which joined together in a federation in 1848 and ceded a part of their sovereignty to it. Switzerland has 26 cantons.
Non-binding right of submission of a proposal by a canton. Any canton may submit a draft decree for approval by the Federal Assembly or suggest that a proposal be worked up into a formal bill. In a number of cantons, the cantonal initiative can be demanded via a popular initiative.
In the case of a mandatory referendum, a majority of the cantons is required, in addition to a popular majority, in order for the proposal that has been submitted to the People to be accepted. It is accepted when the popular vote has been in favor of the proposal in a majority of the cantons. In calculating the majority, the results in the cantons of Obwalden, Nidwalden, Basle City, Basle Country, Appenzell Outer-Rhodes and Appenzell Inner-Rhodes each count as half a cantonal vote.
Chambers (of the bicameral parliament)
In Switzerland the Council of States and the National Council each form one chamber of the parliament.
In the context of initiatives and referendums, the degree to which the rules on thresholds, hurdles, quorums, voting methods etc. make the process as free, fair and accessible as possible for the eligible voter.
Citizen-initiated Referendum (PCR)
See popular referendum.
Citizens’ Initiative (PCI)
See popular initiative.
Collection of Statements of Support
See signature gathering.
Duty of the eligible voters to participate in the election or referendum vote. The voter may cast a blank vote, i.e. not choose any of the given options. In some countries where voting is considered a duty, voting has been made compulsory and sanctions on non-voters are imposed. In Switzerland, compulsory voting is known in the canton of Schaffhausen. Non-voters face a fine of 3 Swiss Francs. A fine sanction for non-voters is also known in other countries, e.g. Austria, Australia, Belgium, Chile, Cyprus and Thailand. In some countries with compulsory voting the non-voter has to provide a legitimate reason for his/her abstention to avoid further sanctions, if any exist (e.g. in Egypt, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg or Turkey).
A form of democracy which aims to involve as large a number of players (political parties, trade unions, minorities, social groups) in the political process as possible and to reach decisions by consensus. Because it is relatively easy to overturn a parliamentary decision by means of a popular referendum, both parliament and – even before the matter is debated in parliament – also the government must look for compromise solutions which will satisfy all the important political groups capable of launching a referendum. It was the popular referendum which led historically to the formation of consensus democracy.
Constructive Referendum (PCR+)
A popular referendum combined with a popular counter-proposal. The constructive referendum gives a certain number of eligible voters the right to present a counter-proposal to a decree which is subject to the optional referendum. The counter-proposal is presented together with the decree. In Switzerland this possibility currently exists in the cantons of Bern, Nidwalden and Zurich. It is also known in the city of Lucerne.
Council of States
The smaller chamber of the Federal Parliament (Federal Assembly) in Switzerland, comprising 46 members. The Council of States is the chamber representing the cantons because its members act as delegates of their respective cantons. Nowadays, the members of the Council of States are elected in their cantons by the citizens there who are eligible to vote, in the same way as the members of the National Council, but according to regulations laid down under cantonal law.
Counter-proposal (PCI+, PCR+)
A proposal to be presented to a popular vote as an alternative to the proposal contained in a popular initiative or referendum. The counter-proposal may originate in the legislature or with a given number of citizens. In Switzerland the Federal Assembly may submit a counter-proposal both to a general popular initiative and to a formulated popular initiative in the event that it wishes to address the concern raised in the popular initiative but wants to deal with the matter in a different way from that proposed by the authors of the initiative. In such a case, a vote is held in accordance with the rules on the “double yes” vote.
Where an original proposal and a counter-proposal are to be voted on in the same vote, there is the possibility of a Double Yes result, as voters may vote in favor of both proposals. In such cases, the deciding question is used to determine which version should be implemented, should both proposals be approved.
Direct democracy gives citizens the right to exercise popular sovereignty directly. There exist two types of direct democracy, modern and pre-modern. Pre-modern direct democracy was born in ancient Athens and has been practiced in the form of classical assembly democracy. Modern (direct) democracy differs in many ways: it is individualistic, not associational; it is seen as a universal human right, not as a privilege (see –> Differences between pre-modern and modern democracy and –>Direct democracy procedure)
Direct Democracy Procedure
Procedures which a) include the right of citizens to participate directly in the political decision-making process on issues and b) at the same time are designed and work as instruments of power-sharing which empower citizens. Two types of procedure can be distinguished: REFERENDUM and INITIATIVE. Each type of procedure exists in different forms, and each form can be institutionalized (legal design) in various ways. Forms of referendums are: citizen-initiated referendums (popular referendums), obligatory (mandatory) referendums. Forms of initiatives are: citizens’ initiative (popular initiative), which may also be combined with a counter-proposal (usually by parliament), agenda (setting) initiative.
Traditional U.S. term for laws and constitutional amendments enacted directly by the people, either through ballot initiatives or legislative referendums.
If a counter-proposal in response to a popular initiative is submitted, the voters may approve both the counter-proposal and the initiative and at the same time indicate which of the two they would prefer if both are approved. The proposal (initiative or counter-proposal) that is ultimately accepted is that which receives the most “Yes” votes.
Requirement for a proposal to pass which includes both a majority of the overall total of votes cast and a majority of the votes in at least a specified proportion of defined electoral areas. In Switzerland a double majority of People and States (cantons) is required for obligatory referendums. In other words, in order to be accepted, a majority of cantons must have voted in favor, in addition to an overall majority of all those citizens who voted. This means that all the votes cast are counted twice: once for the overall number, and then for each separate canton. At least 50%+1 of those who voted (the “People”), plus a majority of the cantons, must approve the proposal. In calculating the cantonal majority, it must be remembered that the cantons of Obwalden, Nidwalden, Basle City, Basle Country, Appenzell Outer-Rhodes and Appenzell Inner-Rhodes each have half a cantonal vote. In the case of referendums held to approve or reject laws, a simple majority of the votes cast is sufficient.
Person who has the right to vote.
European Citizens’ Initiative (PAX)
The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) is, despite its name, only an agenda setting initiative. Some proponents of the ECI hope that it could become the first step towards real direct democracy at the transnational level. The ECI came into force on 1 April 2012. It allows one million citizens from at least one quarter of the EU Member States to invite the European Commission to bring forward proposals for legal acts. The organizers of a citizens’ initiative, a citizens’ committee composed of at least 7 EU citizens who are resident in at least 7 different Member States, will have 1 year to collect the necessary signatures (statements of support). The Commission will then have 3 months to examine the initiative and decide how to act on it.
Form of voting where the voters are able to vote with the aid of a special electronic voting system by completing an “electronic ballot paper”, which is then sent via a data network to the office responsible for the vote. In Switzerland the cantons of Geneva, Zurich and Neuchâtel are currently conducting electronic voting pilot schemes under the auspices of the Federal Chancellery, whereby the primary concern is to ensure the security of the procedure (preservation of voting secrecy, prevention of voting fraud). From 2010 Swiss citizens in selected countries abroad are part of the e-voting procedure. Estonia is the first country in the world where legally binding e-elections have been made possible. For the new European Citizens’ Initiative a procedure for online e-signature collection is foreseen.
Facultative Referendum (PCR)
See popular referendum.
As the general administrative office of the Swiss Federal Council, the Federal Chancellery coordinates Federal Council business and is also the office of the President of the Confederation. In addition, it has special responsibility for political rights, is in charge of official publications (Federal Gazette, compilations of federal legislation) and coordinates the release of information to the public and the translation services for the Federal Administration. The Federal Chancellery is headed by the Federal Chancellor.
Federal Council (Government)
The national government, i.e. the highest authority of the executive in the Swiss Confederation (executive power). The Federal Council has seven members, who are elected by the United Chambers of the Federal Assembly, and has the task of managing and supervising the Federal Administration. The Federal Chancellor is head of the general administrative office of the government, the Federal Chancellery. The Federal President chairs the meetings of the Federal Council. Currently the acting president serves for one year. It is proposed to extend this into a 2-year term.
The highest authority of the judicial power in the Swiss Confederation. The Federal Supreme Court, as the supreme court of appeal, is responsible for ensuring that court decisions conform to the Constitution, and is the only court with jurisdiction in federal law cases that cannot be dealt with by cantonal courts, e.g. those relating to certain criminal offenses against the state. The various chambers of the Federal Supreme Court are specialized courts in a variety of legal fields such as those of bankruptcy, civil, criminal and administrative law. The Federal Insurance Court in Lucerne has jurisdiction in cases relating to social insurance law.
A ruling by the Swiss Federal Assembly on constitutional provisions, important single acts and general decisions. A Federal decree that is not subject to approval by referendum is called a ”simple Federal decree”.
Federal Law/Federal Act
Decree of the Swiss Federal Assembly.
Finance Referendum (PCR, LOR)
An obligatory or popular referendum on parliamentary decisions on public expenditure, also referred to as the “referendum on public expenditure”. Any parliamentary decision which involves the expenditure of public money can be the subject of a finance referendum. Although the finance referendum does not exist at the Swiss national (federal) level, it is widely used at both cantonal and local levels.
A proposal which is not presented as a formal alternative to an original initiative proposal. In Switzerland the indirect counter-proposal may come from parliament or the government and enters the decision-making process at a different level than the original initiative, i.e. the initiative aims at making a change at the constitutional level, whereas the indirect counter-proposal is a proposal to change a law.
In the canton of Zurich an initiative can be launched by a single individual. The initiative will go to (referendum) ballot if it is supported by the cantonal parliament.
Designates a certain TYPE of popular vote procedures (see –> Typology). Initiative procedures are characterized by the right of a minority, normally a specified number of citizens, to propose to the public the introduction of a new or renewed law. The decision on the proposal is made through a popular vote.
Note, that the agenda setting initiative fits into this type of procedure only with respect to its initial phase. What happens next is decided by a representative authority.
The proponents of the initiative. In Switzerland an initiative must be submitted by a minimum of 7 and (since 1997) a maximum of 27 sponsors. The bigger number ensures that one representative from each canton can be part of the committee. An absolute majority of the sponsors has the right to withdraw the initiative.
See admissibility of initiative.
Mandatory Referendum (LOR)
See obligatory referendum.
Modern Direct Democracy
Modern direct democracy gives citizens the right to exercise popular sovereignty also between elections by voting on policy issues. Originally it meant direct legislation by the people through the right of initiative and referendum. Direct democracy decides on issues, not on persons (representatives). In this perspective recall popular votes do not belong to direct democracy. Direct democracy is meant to empower people, not governments. Plebiscites are therefore not included in our definition of direct democracy. If plebiscites are included, the concept of direct democracy becomes more heterogeneous, even Janus-faced, since it includes procedures designed to enhance the power of certain representatives and procedures designed to give more power to the citizens. Such a concept of direct democracy embraces both instruments for people to implement democracy and instruments for power holders using people as means for an end other than the achievement of democracy.
Obligatory Referendum (LOR)
This direct democracy procedure is triggered automatically by law (usually the constitution) which requires that certain issues must be put before the voters for approval or rejection. A conditional obligatory referendum means that a specified issue must be put to the ballot only under certain conditions (for example, in Denmark the delegation of powers to international authorities is decided by popular vote if more than half but less than four-fifths of the parliament accept such a bill, and if the government maintains it). Unconditional referendums are without loopholes (for example, in Switzerland changes to the constitution must always be decided by a popular vote).
See popular referendum.
See turnout quorum.
In Switzerland the federal authorities must acknowledge a petition, but need not respond to it. Many European countries have the petition or mass petition right as a non-binding request by citizens. In the United States, however, the term petition is also used as a synonym for a citizens’ initiative. A petition may contain a proposal, a criticism or a request, and the subject-matter may be any state activity.
Designates a TYPE of popular vote procedures (–> see Typology). A plebiscite is a public consultation controlled „from above“. It is the powers that be (the President, Prime Minister, Parliament) which decide when and on what subject the people will be asked to vote or give their opinion. Rather than being an active subject in control of the procedure, people (popular votes) become means to an end which is determined by a representative authority.
Plebiscites give ruling politicians additional power over citizens. They are used to evade responsibility for controversial issues which have become an impediment, they are used to provide legitimacy for decisions those in power have already taken, they are used to mobilize people behind rulers and parties, and they are used by an authority to bypass another representative authority. The aim of a plebiscite is not to implement democracy, but to reinforce or salvage those in power with the help of „the people“.
A popular vote procedure whose use lies exclusively within the control of an authority. In this form the author of the ballot proposal and the initiator of the procedure are the same (for example parliament or president).
Political rights are the fundamental rights of the People under direct democracy. They enable citizens of voting age to participate in the shaping of law and politics in the state. Political rights include the right to vote and the right to participate in elections, as well as the right to submit a popular initiative or referendum request and the right to sign such a request.
Assembly of eligible voters. One of the oldest forms of democracy, still practised today in Appenzell Inner-Rhodes and Glarus. The eligible voters of a canton or a commune gather in the open air on a certain day in order to elect the government and reach decisions about laws and public expenditure. Everyone has the right to speak on any issue. Voting is by show of hands, which does not respect the secrecy of the vote. In Glarus and Appenzell Inner-Rhodes a secret vote can, however, be requested.
Popular Initiative (PCI)
A direct democracy procedure and a political right that allows a given number of citizens to put their own proposal on the political agenda. The proposal may be, for example, to amend the constitution, adopt a new law, or repeal or amend an already existing law. The procedure is initiated by a prescribed number of eligible voters. The sponsors of a popular initiative can force a popular vote on their proposal (assuming that their initiative is formally adopted). The initiative procedure may include a withdrawal clause, which gives the sponsors the possibility to withdraw their initiative, for example in the event that the legislature has taken action to fulfill the demands of the initiative or some of them. This procedure may operate as a means of innovation and reform: it allows people to step on the gas pedal. In principle, initiatives enable people to get what they want.
Popular Initiative + Authorities’ Counter-Proposal (PCI+)
Within the framework of a popular initiative process a representative authority (normally parliament) has the right to formulate a counter-proposal to the initiative proposal. Both proposals are then decided on at the same time by a popular vote. If both proposals are accepted, the decision on whether the initiative proposal or the authority’s counter-proposal should be implemented can be made by means of a special deciding question.
Popular Referendum (PCR)
A direct democracy procedure and a political right that allows a specified number of citizens to initiate a referendum and let the whole electorate decide whether, for example, a particular law should be enacted or repealed. This procedure acts as a corrective to parliamentary decision-making in representative democracies and as a check on parliament and the government. The “people“ or demos (i.e. all those with the right to vote) has the right to decide in retrospect on decisions made by the legislature. Whereas the popular initiative works like a gas pedal, the popular referendum gives people the possibility to step on the brakes.
Popular Referendum + Counter-Proposal (PCR+)
This direct democracy procedure combines a popular referendum against a decision by an authority with a popular vote on a counter proposal. If both proposals are accepted, the decision between the two can be made by means of a deciding question.
The “Volksmotion” (popular submission) is used in several Swiss cantons. The submission, bearing the signatures of a prescribed minimum number of registered voters, requests the cantonal government to draft legislation or adopt a particular measure. In practice, the cantonal parliament treats the Volksmotion in the same way as it does a parliamentary motion (a motion signed by members of the cantonal parliament). In the cantons of Schaffhausen and Solothurn a Volksmotion needs a minimum of 100 signatures, in the canton of Freiburg at least 300. In Solothurn the popular submission is called a “Volksauftrag”.
Method of voting in which voters send their ballot papers to the office responsible for the vote by post instead of going to a polling station to vote.
See initiative committee.
Publication of the Initiative
The act of making a proposal for an initiative public by the appropriate authority after it has been registered and checked for compliance with the substantive and formal requirements of registration.
A majority requirement demanding that for a proposal to be passed, it must receive a proportion of the vote in excess of 50% plus 1 – for example 2/3 or 3/4.
A procedure that allows a specified number of citizens to demand a vote on whether an elected holder of public office should be removed from that office before the end of his/her term of office.
Designates a certain TYPE of popular vote procedure (–> see Typology). The referendum is a direct democracy procedure which includes a popular vote on an issue (ballot proposal) such as, for example, a constitutional amendment or a bill; the voters have the right to either accept or reject the ballot proposal. The procedure is triggered either by law (–> obligatory referendum) or by a specified number of citizens (–> popular referendum). Note: a popular vote procedure, which is triggered and controlled exclusively by the authorities, is not a referendum but a plebiscite.
Also known as the “Explanation from the Federal Council”. In Switzerland, a pamphlet or booklet in which the proposal(s) being submitted to the voters are explained and which includes the arguments of the committee responsible for the initiative or referendum together with the opinion of the Federal Council is published by the Federal Chancellery in the four official national languages and sent to all eligible voters via the communes (local authorities) along with the other voting documents three to four weeks before the voting day.
Referendum on International Treaties (PCR, LOR)
At the Swiss national level, all international treaties which are of unlimited duration and which may not be terminated, provide for accession to international organizations or introduce a multilateral harmonization of law are subject to the optional referendum. Accession to organizations for collective security or to supranational communities is subject to mandatory referendum. Most cantons also have a special referendum dealing with sovereign treaties with other cantons or foreign states. In both the federal and cantonal cases, it is not the treaty as such which is subject to referendum, but parliament’s agreement to the treaty.
Referendum on Public Expenditure (PCR)
See finance referendum.
Referendum Requested by the Cantons
In Switzerland, a referendum that is initiated by a minimum of eight cantons. (“Kantonsreferendum”)
Registration of a popular initiative
The act of depositing an initiative for publication and collection of signatures, whereby the legal process of the initiative is officially started. In Switzerland registration is made at the Federal Chancellery.
A popular referendum which may either retain or repeal a law or decree that has been agreed by the legislature but has not yet come into force.
Representative democracy has been understood mainly as a purely indirect democracy, in which elected representatives make decisions on behalf of the citizens, monopolising the right to decide the political agenda and policy issues.
Right to elect (Wahlrecht)
Right to participate in elections.
Right to vote” (Stimmrecht)
Right to participate in a (referendum) vote on issues. At the Swiss national level, the right of citizens of voting age to participate in popular votes at the federal level. Exceptionally, foreigners holding residence permits are also permitted to vote at the cantonal or communal level. Anyone who has the right to vote also has the right to participate in elections.
An eligible person, who signs or supports an initiative.
Signature Gathering (or Collection)
The process of gathering signatures. Often this process starts with the registration or filing of an initiative and ends after a certain amount of time or with the submission of signatures.
People who gather signatures (statements of support) in public. In the US most signature gatherers are paid, while this concept is still relatively unknown in the rest of the world.
Statement of support
The terminology used in the framework of the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) as a synonym for signatures.
The Swiss Confederation
The Swiss Confederation is the official name for Switzerland. In day-to-day Swiss usage, the full name is often abbreviated to “Confederation” (Eidgenossenschaft): it stands for the country as a whole – People, government and authorities. When the reference is specifically to the government, parliament and authorities alone, the term “Federation” (Bund) is employed.
The formal name given to the proposal in a popular initiative or citizen-initiated referendum. In U.S. states, it is often given along with a summary of the measure that appears on petitions and the ballot. In Switzerland, the proponents of an initiative can choose the title of the initiative as long as it respects certain legal requirements.
The number of those who actually vote, usually expressed as a percentage.
The minimum number of voters that have to take part for a ballot to be valid.
Unity of Subject Matter
When voting in referendums, Swiss voters have only two options (other than deciding not to vote at all): they can vote either “Yes” or “No”. In order to ensure that voters’ voting intentions are completely freely expressed and unequivocal, there is a requirement for the referendum issue/proposal to be reduced to a single political question. The principle of unity of subject matter applies to all referendums, regardless of whether they result from a popular initiative or are mandatory referendums.
A popular vote procedure whose use lies exclusively within the control of the authorities. In this form the author of the ballot proposal and the initiator of the procedure are NOT the same. For example, a government or a president may oppose (veto) a decision of parliament and refer it to a popular vote; hence the name veto plebiscite.
See ballot paper.
Withdrawal of an Initiative
A procedure that allows the proponents of an initiative to withdraw their proposal. In Switzerland a popular initiative can be recalled or withdrawn by the initiative committee. At the federal level, recall is permitted only up to the time when the government announces the date for the referendum. An initiative presented as a general proposal can no longer be withdrawn once the Federal Assembly has approved it.