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A referendum or plebiscite (plural; referendums or referenda, plebiscites) is a general poll on a legislative or constitutional issue. It is an official (but not always binding) vote for special issues, where the opinion of the electorate is requested.

Referenda can be binding or non-binding. A consultative referendum (also called an advisory referendum) leaves the interpretation of the vote to the legislature. A binding referendum is possible only in some countries, and a certain size of the participating electorate is also sometimes a prerequisite.

A plebiscite is directed to all citizens, regardless of their franchise. A plebiscite, in its narrow sense, is the request for approval of a (radical) governmental decree or approval of the general policies of the government, typically in states without democracy, parliamentarism or a representative parliament. An exception to this took place in Ireland when the Constitution of the Irish Free State was replaced by the Constitution of Ireland by plebiscite on July 1, 1937.

Table of contents
1 Purpose
2 Referenda on Constitutional Amendments
3 See also
4 External links


Referenda are a key measure in semi-direct democracy and the only measure in a pure direct democracy. Few believe that such "rule by poll" is always desirable. For one, referenda may lead to inconsistent politics, such as increasing spending on certain issues while lowering taxation (both of which are likely to be favored by many voters). Voters may be subject to a disinformation campaign, especially on emotional issues. Also, referenda may be inadequate for very technical issues. However, most advocates of grassroots democracy propose measures that would make them far more common.

In most jurisdictions practicing representative democracy referenda, the calling of these can only be achieved through the act of a legislature and is a relatively rare event.

The constitutions of many jurisdictions may only be altered by a referendum. In some jurisdictions measures such as constitutional amendments, ordinary laws or the "recall" of elected representatives must be put to a referendum upon the request of a certain proportion of voters, in a process called the "initiative".

Referenda on Constitutional Amendments

In the Republic of Ireland a referendum must be held in order to amend the constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann). First a bill to amend the constitution must be passed by both houses of the Republic's Parliament, the Oireachtas. If the proposal is endorsed by a simple majority of the valid poll the bill is signed by the President of Ireland and the amendment takes effect. The Irish electorate has participated in over 20 such referenda since the adoption of the Constitution in 1937.

In Australia, a referendum is necessary in order to amend the Constitution. As in the Republic of Ireland, a bill must first be passed by the two houses of Parliament. If a majority of those voting, as well as a majority in each of a majority of states, vote in favour of the amendment, it is presented for the Queen's Assent, given in her name by the Governor-General.

See also

External links