Difference Between Initiative and Referendum

Initiative vs Referendum

Initiative and referendum are powers granted to the electorate by the constitution of several states, and refer to the processes that allow voters to vote directly on certain legislation. They represent direct check on democracy as people can exercise their powers to accept or reject a piece of legislation. There are critics that disapprove of these powers saying they amount to rule of the mob. However, the system of initiative and referendum keeps a democracy alive and kicking, and prevent tyranny of elected legislators. Though they have similar nature, there are differences between imitative and referendum that will be discussed in this article.


It is a political instrument given as a power to the voters of a state, to propose statutes bypassing their own legislature or even propose constitutional amendments. There are 24 states that grant this special power to their people. It was South Dakota in 1898 that became the first state to grant the power to its people, and the latest to join the bandwagon is Mississippi that included the initiative in its constitution in 1992.

There are two types of initiatives namely direct initiative and indirect initiative, In direct initiative, the proposal bypasses the legislation and goes directly to ballot. On the other hand, indirect initiative is a proposal that is first sent to the legislature that can accept, amend, or reject the proposal.

Initiatives can either ask for a statute revision or call for amendment of the constitution. For revision of a statute, minimum votes required are 5% of total votes that were cast in the election of the Governor in last elections. Constitutional amendments require at least 8% of the total votes cast in the lat gubernatorial elections.


This is power in the hands of the electorate to either accept or reject a proposal to an existing legislation through an election called for this purpose. Referendum can be initiated by the legislature also as when a measure is presented to the electorate for its approval. For example, changes in the state constitution require to be approved by the electorate before being put into effect. Some states are required by the constitution, even to get approval for any proposed tax changes. Legislative referendum is less controversial than referendums initiated by the voters and often easily approved. Popular referendum supersedes the powers of the legislature; within 90 days of passing of a piece of legislation, popular referendum can take place to reject or approve it. Out of total 50, there are 24 states where popular referendum can take place.


What is the difference between Initiative and Referendum?

• Both initiative and referendum are powers given to the voters to accept or reject a piece of legislation, though initiative allows people to get the government to do what it should have and did not, while referendum give people the power to get the government not to do what they wanted to do.

• Initiative starts with votes, whereas legislative referendum initiates from the legislature and goes to the public, to approve or reject the proposed legislation.