political science Political science is the scientific study of politics Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power relations between individuals, such as the distribution of ...
, an initiative (also known as a popular initiative or citizens' initiative) is a means by which a
petition A petition is a request to do something, most commonly addressed to a government official or public entity. Petitions to a deity A deity or god is a supernatural being considered divinity, divine or sacred. The ''Oxford Dictionary of English'' ...

signed by a certain number of
registered voters In electoral systems, voter registration (or enrolment) is the requirement that a person otherwise Suffrage, eligible to Voting, vote must register (or enroll) on an electoral roll, which is usually a prerequisite for being entitled or permitted t ...

registered voters
can force a government to choose either to enact a law or hold a public vote in the
legislature A legislature is an assembly Assembly may refer to: Organisations and meetings * Deliberative assembly A deliberative assembly is a gathering of members (of any kind of collective) who use parliamentary procedure Parliamentary procedure i ...
in what is called indirect initiative, or under direct initiative, where the proposition is put to a plebiscite or
referendum A referendum (plural: referendums or less commonly referenda) is a direct DIRECT was a late-2000s proposed alternative super heavy lift launch vehicle A super heavy-lift launch vehicle (SHLLV) is a launch vehicle capable of lifting more than ...

, in what is called a ''Popular initiated Referendum'' or citizen-initiated referendum. In an indirect initiative, a measure is first referred to the legislature, and then put to a popular vote only if not enacted by the legislature. If the proposed law is rejected by the legislature, the government may be forced to put the proposition to a referendum. The initiative may then take the form of a direct initiative or an indirect initiative. In a direct initiative, a measure is put directly to a referendum. The vote may be on a proposed federal level,
statute A statute is a formal written enactment of a legislature, legislative authority that governs the legal entities of a city, State (polity), state, or country by way of consent. Typically, statutes command or prohibit something, or declare Public po ...

constitutional amendment A constitutional amendment is a modification of the of a , or other type of . Amendments are often interwoven into the relevant sections of an existing constitution, directly altering the text. Conversely, they can be appended to the constitut ...
, charter amendment or
local ordinance A local ordinance is a law Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its environment, ...
, or obligate the
executive Executive may refer to: Role, title, or function * Executive (government), branch of government that has authority and responsibility for the administration of state bureaucracy * Executive, a senior management role in an organization ** Chief exec ...
or legislature to consider the subject by submitting it to the order of the day. It is a form of
direct democracy upright=1.5, A Landsgemeinde, or assembly, of the canton of Glarus, on 7 May 2006, Switzerland">canton_of_Glarus.html" ;"title="Landsgemeinde, or assembly, of the canton of Glarus">Landsgemeinde, or assembly, of the canton of Glarus, on 7 May 200 ...

By type

Direct initiative

A direct initiative places an initiative measure directly on the ballot for voters to pass or reject. The measure is not submitted the legislature first.

Indirect initiative

An indirect initiative is voted on by a legislature after sufficient signatures are collected from the voting population. In most areas the measure is submitted to a subsequent popular vote only if amended by the legislature.

Agenda setting initiative

An agenda setting initiative is a measure submitted by petition to a legislature for consideration. The legislature may choose to approve or reject the proposal without a public vote. This form or initiative is more common than a legally binding direct or indirect initiative.

By country




In Brazil, a popular law initiative requires two conditions be met before it is sent to the National Congress: signatures from at least 1% of national registered voters and at least 0.3% of the people allowed to vote from each of at least five of the 27 federal unities (the 26 states plus the federal district). If both conditions are met, Congress is obliged to discuss and vote on holding the initiative.


; British Columbia The Canadian province of British Columbia has a citizen initiative law known as the Recall and Initiative Act. The original proposal was put to voters in a referendum held in October 1991 and was supported by over 83% of voters. It was subsequently put into force by the incoming NDP government. Since it came into force in 1995, 11 attempts have been made to force the government to either adopt a law or to hold a referendum on the question, but only one has succeeded. Only one secured the required signatures of 10% of registered voters in each riding throughout British Columbia. Due to this achievement the government held the first referendum under this legislation, in September 2011 on the subject of repealing the Harmonized Sales Tax. Details of its use in BC are available on the Elections BC website.

United States

The United States has no initiative process at the national level, but the initiative is in use at the level of state government in 24 states and the Initiatives and referendums in the District of Columbia, District of Columbia, and is also in common use at the local government level. Article One of the United States Constitution, Article I, Section I of the United States Constitution Vesting Clause, vests "all legislative powers herein granted" to the United States Congress, Congress of the United States. Establishing a national initiative procedure would likely require an List of amendments to the United States Constitution, amendment to the Constitution, which would under Article Five of the United States Constitution, Article V require two-thirds of both houses of Congress or the application of two-thirds of the State legislature (United States), state legislatures to propose, and three-fourths of all state legislatures (or conventions in three-fourths of the U.S. state, states) to ratify. The Constitution itself, pursuant to Article VII of the United States Constitution, Article VII, was ratified by state conventions rather than by a referendum. Several proposals have been made to institute a national referendum. The Ludlow Amendment, introduced several times to the US House of Representatives, House of Representatives by Louis Ludlow of Indiana between 1935 and 1940, proposed an amendment to the Constitution that would require a national referendum to declare war except in the case of invasion or attack. The amendment came closest to overcoming a discharge petition on January 10, 1938, when it was defeated in the House by a vote of 209 to 188, short of the two-thirds vote required for its passage. Unsuccessful attempts to get initiatives have nevertheless occurred, but since the proposals were bills, not constitutional amendments, no initiative could probably have lawfully been voted on notwithstanding the bills' passage. The first attempt to get national ballot initiatives occurred in 1907 when House Joint Resolution 44 was introduced by Rep. Elmer Fulton of Oklahoma; the proposal was never put to a vote. In 1977, both the Abourezk-Hatfield National Voter Initiative and the Jagt Resolutions never got out of committee. Senator Mike Gravel was part of that effort. The modern system of initiatives and referendums in the United States originated in the state of South Dakota, which adopted initiatives and referendums in 1898 by a popular vote of 23,816 to 16,483. Oregon was the second state to adopt and did so in 1902, when the Oregon Legislative Assembly adopted it by an overwhelming majority. The "Oregon System," as it was at first known, subsequently spread to many other states, and became one of the signature reforms of the Progressive Era (1890s-1920s). Almost every state currently in the union utilizes some sort of State Question or Initiative. A contemporary issue that is commonly decided through this method is the Timeline of cannabis laws in the United States, legalization of marijuana.



People's initiative to propose amendments to the constitution is enshrined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution under Article XVII Section 2, which states: This provision is further protected by Republic Act 6735 or ''The Initiative and Referendum Act.'' The law defines initiative as: # A petition to propose amendments to the constitution. # A petition to propose enactment of national legislation. # A petition to propose enactment of local resolution or ordinance on regional, provincial, city, municipal, or barangay level. The law also provides ''indirect initiative'' defining the exercise of people's initiative through a proposition sent to congress or local legislative body for action.


European Union

The rejected Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe#Parliamentary power and transparency, Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE) included a limited indirect initiative right (Article I-46(4)). The proposal of introducing the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) was that 1,000,000 citizens, from minimal numbers of different member states, could invite the executive body of the European Union (EU), the European Commission, to consider any proposal "on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Constitution." The precise mechanism had not been agreed upon. Critics underlined the weakness of this right of initiative, which did not ultimately entail any vote or referendum. A similar scheme under the same name, European Citizens' Initiative (ECI), has been put forward in the now ratified European Lisbon Treaty (which entered into force on 1 December 2009), enabling a limited indirect initiative right. It follows very similar rules to the ones outlined in the European Constitution, requiring the signatures of 1,000 000 European Nationals. These citizens would thereby obtain the same right to request the Commission to submit a legislative proposal as the Council has had since the establishment of the European Communities in 1957. This, however, does require that the signatures come from a "significant number" of Member States. It is suggested that this significant number will need to be around a quarter of member states, with at least 1/500 of the citizens in those member states supporting the initiative. With the variety of languages within the European Union, this creates a significant hurdle for people to navigate. The treaty also makes it clear that right of initiative should not be confused with the right to
petition A petition is a request to do something, most commonly addressed to a government official or public entity. Petitions to a deity A deity or god is a supernatural being considered divinity, divine or sacred. The ''Oxford Dictionary of English'' ...

, particularly since a petition is directed to Parliament while a citizens' initiative is directed to the Commission; whereas a petition is a method of remonstrance, usually focussing on perceived infringements of European Law, an initiative is a grassroots proposal for new legislation. In 2013 the subjects of ongoing open initiatives of the European Citizens' Initiative are e.g. about "water and sanitation as a human right" (against Water privatization), "30 km/h - making the streets liveable!" (Traffic calming in towns), "Basic Income#Basic Income Movement in Europe, Unconditional Basic Income" (UBI - Exploring a pathway towards emancipatory welfare conditions), or to "End Ecocide in Europe" (to give the Earth Rights). It remains to be seen if the ECI evolves into a full initiative or remains in its present state of a ''de facto'' petition.


Since 1 March 2012, groups of at least 50,000 Finland, Finnish citizens with suffrage have had the constitutional right to send a citizens' initiative (Finnish: ''kansalaisaloite'', Swedish: ''medborgarinitiativ'') to the Parliament of Finland. The Parliament is entitled to address and discuss each initiative and the possibilities of them becoming new laws. The first initiative to pass the 50,000 mark did so already a few months after the "kansalaisaloite" first became possible. The initiative demanded the ending of fur industry in Finland, but failed to pass in Parliament. The first initiative to be accepted by the Parliament was the citizens' initiative known in Finland as "Equal Marriages Law", which is also known by its campaign slogan, #Tahdon2013 (#IDo2013). This initiative was accepted by the Parliament during the 2011-2015 parliamentary session, though political debate, decision-making and drafting of the new law continued on to the next parliamentary session. The new law took effect on 1 March 2017. To date, a total of 24 citizens' initiatives have reached the 50,000 mark, with 20 of them having been either rejected or accepted in Parliament - so far, only two have been accepted: the aforementioned "Equal Marriages Law" and the "Motherhood Law" from 2015/16.Note: the text is an unofficial translation used by the Ministry of Justice of Finland. *


A limited, indirect form of local initiative was added to the French Constitution (article 72-1, ''référendum d'initiative locale'') on 28 March 2003 as part of decentralization reforms. However, the only power these "local referendum initiatives" confer on citizens is the ability to add propositions to their local assembly's meeting agenda. The decision as to whether to submit citizen propositions to a popular vote (referendum) rests with the local assembly. A citizens' initiative referendum was proposed by the yellow vests movement. Citizens are able to submit a law project to the parliament through the "Référendum d'Initiative Partagée"; they can ask for a referendum if they meet the 185 deputies requirement and the signatures of at least 10% of the voting population.


All German states have the right to initiative. However, there is no constitutional citizens' initiative in Germany at a federal level.


The Constitution of Ireland, since its enactment of the Constitution of Ireland, 1937 enactment, has never made provision for initiatives. Since 2012, the Oireachtas (parliament) has a Oireachtas Joint Committee, joint committee to which the public can submit
petition A petition is a request to do something, most commonly addressed to a government official or public entity. Petitions to a deity A deity or god is a supernatural being considered divinity, divine or sacred. The ''Oxford Dictionary of English'' ...

s; the committee must formally consider them but need not accept them. In May–June 2013, when the Constitutional Convention (Ireland), Constitutional Convention considered Dáil electoral reform, members voted 83:16 in favour of allowing "citizens' initiatives" in general, 80:19 to allow them specifically for legislation,Constitutional Convention 2013; §2 Question 10 and 78:17 to allow them for Amendments to the Constitution of Ireland, constitutional amendments. In April 2015, the Government of the 31st Dáil, Fine Gael–Labour government rejected the recommendations on the basis that there is sufficient public involvement in legislation through the petitions committee and the pre-legislative scrutiny process. Article 48 of the 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State gave a right of initiative: if more than 50,000 voters demanded a change in law, the Oireachtas had two years to enact it, failing which 75,000 voters could petition for a
referendum A referendum (plural: referendums or less commonly referenda) is a direct DIRECT was a late-2000s proposed alternative super heavy lift launch vehicle A super heavy-lift launch vehicle (SHLLV) is a launch vehicle capable of lifting more than ...

.Constitutional Convention 2013; §5.3.2 "Background" The only attempt to invoke this was organised in 1927 by Fianna Fáil, the largest Opposition (parliamentary), opposition party, which sought to abolish the Oath of Allegiance (Ireland), Oath of Allegiance. By May 1928 Fianna Fáil claimed 96,000 signatures and attempted to have the petition Laying before the house, laid before the Dáil Éireann (Irish Free State), Dáil (lower house). The motion was deferred, ostensibly to allow the Dáil Parliamentary procedure, procedure committee to define the method of dealing with such petitions. Before the committee could meet, the Government of the 6th Dáil, Cumann na nGaedheal government rushed through an amendment deleting Article 48 of the Constitution.


Citizens' legislative initiatives are a constitutional right in Poland, defined in Article 118, paragraph 2, of the :s:Constitution of the Republic of Poland/Chapter 4, 1997 Polish Constitution. The paragraph gives legislative initiative to any group of at least 100,000 citizens with voting rights to the Sejm, the lower house of Polish parliament. The detailed procedure is defined in a law dated 24 June 1999. Under Article 5 of the 24 June 1999 law, citizens wishing to launch an initiative must create a committee of at least 15 members, which becomes a legal person. The committee must prepare the draft bill (law), bill and collect at least 100,000 signatures (Article 2). Under Article 12 of the law, if there is "justified doubt regarding the authenticity of the required number of signatures of citizens, then within 14 days of the lodging of the list of signatures, the Marshal of the Sejm must request the National Electoral Commission (Poland), National Electoral Commission to verify the signatures. The electoral commission has 21 days to carry out the verification. One of the best known citizens' initiatives in Poland is the pair of Abortion in Poland#Proposed abortion ban, 2015/2016 anti-abortion and pro-abortion initiatives which were accompanied by the ''Black Protest'' marches coordinated by women's rights groups.


According to Article 74 of the Romanian Constitution, groups of at least 100,000 Romanian Citizens with suffrage that reside in at least one quarter of all the counties and with a minimum 5,000 signatures per county have the right to send a Citizens' Initiative which must be considered by the legislative body (Initiatives that address fiscal or international matters are not covered by this right). If the initiative concerns changing the Constitution, Article 150 of the Constitution states that the group must include at least 500,000 Romanian Citizens with suffrage who reside in at least half of all the counties, with a minimum of 20,000 per county. Article 151 of the Constitution also states that any amendments brought to it, must be also approved by means of a National Referendum.


The federal popular initiative was included in the Swiss Federal Constitution in 1891, permitting a certain number of citizens (currently 100,000 signatures within 18 months) to make a request to amend a constitutional article, or even to introduce a new article into the constitution. The right of initiative is also used at the cantonal and communal level in Switzerland (all Cantons of Switzerland, cantons, all Communes of Switzerland, communes where the direct democracy, direct democratic citizens' participation originates); many cantons allow initiatives to enact regular non-constitutional law, but the federal system does not. If the necessary number of supporters is reached, the initiative will be put to a plebiscite about two or three years later; the delay helps prevent short-term political moods from getting into the constitution. The parliament and government will both issue their official opinions on whether they recommend voting for or against the proposed amendment, and these opinions will be published. The parliament may also pass an alternative amendment suggestion which will also be included on the ballot; in this case, the voters cast two votes, one for whether or not they want an amendment, and one for which one they want, the original one from the initiative or the one introduced in parliament, in case a majority decides for amending. A citizen-proposed change to the constitution in Switzerland at the national level needs to achieve both a majority of the national popular vote and a majority of the canton-wide vote to pass. The vast majority of national initiatives introduced since 1891, when the system started, have failed to receive voter support. But the initiatives have proven to be a useful tool to force the government to concentrate on subjects that will otherwise remain hidden from the politic, lowering the distance between the government and the citizens.

United Kingdom

While there is no mandate for a referendum following directly from such an initiative, the UK government has a system whereby citizens can set up online petitions, which are considered by a committee. Any petition which reaches 10,000 signatures triggers a response from the government and those which reach 100,000 signatures will almost always require the government to consider holding a debate (with some exceptions, such as whether a similar issue has been debated recently, or a debate for that issue is scheduled) on the matter in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, House of Commons. Only British Citizens or individuals resident in the UK are allowed to start a petition or be a signatory. Petitions can be initiated via a specialist website, which also contains guidance on when petitions will, and will not, be debated. On occasion, some petitions which are signed by fewer than 100,000 people are still debated. Examples of issues which have been debated in parliament via this system are various issues surrounding the UK withdrawal from the EU and a petition calling for United States President Donald Trump's state visit to UK to be cancelled.


New Zealand

In New Zealand a vote initiated by the public is called a Referendums in New Zealand#Citizens initiated referendums, citizen initiated referendum. These are non-binding referendums on any issue in which proponents have submitted a petition to Parliament signed by ten percent of all registered electors within 12 months.

See also

* Recall election * Legislative referral * Popular referendum





External links

Centre for Research on Direct Democracy (c2d)

Initiative and Referendum Institute



I&R Campaign for Direct Democracy in Britain

United States

Portal: Ballot measures
at Ballotpedia
Citizens in Charge

NCSL Ballot Measures Database

NCSL Initiative & Referendum Legislation Database

The National Initiative for Democracy (NI4D)

The National Initiative for Democracy
{{Authority control Initiatives, Ballot measures Direct democracy Right to petition Sources of law