Referendum Law and Legal Definition

A referendum is a vote taken by the general public to decide an important legislative or policy issue directly, as opposed to having the issue decided by a representative assembly or other legislative agency. It is the right to approve or reject by popular vote a meassure passed upon by a legislature. A referendum may be conducted on the adoption of a new constitution, a constitutional amendment, a law, the recall of an elected official or simply a specific government policy. Certain kinds of referenda held in some states of the United States are referred to as ballot measures or propositions. Questions could include requests for bonding authority for capital development projects, tax increases in specific funds, such as the Education and/or Operations and Maintenance Funds, etc.

In the United States there are two main types of referendum : mandatory and optional. The mandatory referendum may be required by state constitutions and city charters for particular matters, such as constitutional amendments and bond issues, which by law have to be approved by voters. The optional referendum is applied to ordinary legislation.

Other categories of referendums include popular and legislative referendums. Popular referendums are allowed in roughly half of the states and involves petitioning by the people of the state. By collecting signatures on a petition, the people are empowered to either accept or reject specific legislation that was enacted by their legislature. Legislative referendum is allowed in all states and occurs when the state legislatures, an elected official, state appointed constitutional revision commission or other government agency or department submits propositions (constitutional amendments, statutes, bond issues, etc.) to the people for their approval or rejection. A legislative referendum may be mandatory because it's constitutionally required. For example, all states require proposed constitutional amendments to be submitted to the citizenry via legislative referendum for approval or rejection. A legislative referendum may also be optional, because the legislature, government official or agency voluntarily chooses to submit the proposal to the people, however, not all states allow statutes to be placed on the ballot for voter approval or rejection.

Legislative referendum is further broken down into two subcategories- legislative amendments and legislative statutes. Legislative amendments are constitutional amendments placed on the ballot for approval or rejection by voters, including constitutional bond issues and amendments proposed by a constitutional revision commission. Legislative statutes involves statutes and statutory bonds placed on the ballot for approval or rejection by voters.