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How to launch an optional referendum at federal level

To launch an optional referendum at federal level, you need to meet a number of requirements and follow a specific procedure.

Who can launch an optional referendum?

Any citizen who has the right to vote, including the Swiss abroad, can launch an optional popular referendum. You do not need to belong to a committee to launch a referendum, but it makes things easier.
Before launching a referendum, please contact the Federal Chancellery, which will let you know how to proceed.

Swiss Federal Chancellery
Federal Palace West Wing
3003 Bern
Tel. +41 58 462 21 11

Federal Chancellery - Referendum (in German, French, Italian)

How can I launch an optional referendum?

  • Anyone wanting to launch a referendum can form a referendum committee, although this is not absolutely necessary. The authors of the referendum may contact the Federal Chancellery in order to ensure that the referendum documents are correctly drawn up and comply with the law. This is best done before or during the parliamentary session in which the act in question was passed. Several referendum committees can be formed to deal with the same law or parliamentary decree. Their signatures will be added together.
  • Before the contested law or decree is published in the Federal Gazette, the authors of the referendum prepare the signature lists. On request, the Federal Chancellery will provide them with sample signature lists. These lists must contain certain specific information, for example the exact title of the contested law or decree and the date it was adopted by the Federal Assembly (see below). The authors can, if they so wish, submit the signature lists to the Federal Chancellery to be checked.
  • You can start to collect signatures once the law or decree in question has been published in the Federal Gazette. From this date, the author or authors of the referendum have 100 days to collect the 50,000 signatures required, to have them validated by the communes and to hand them in to the Federal Chancellery. Usually some signatures are invalid, so it is worth collecting more than 50,000. 
    It may take some time for the communes to check signatures, so you want to make sure you collect the signatures as quickly as possible and submit the signature lists on a continuous basis to respect the 100 days deadline.
  • A referendum can take place once at least 50,000 valid signatures have been handed in to the Federal Chancellery, which is responsible, in the final instance, for checking the validity of the signatures. If the number of signatures is attained, the contested decision can be put to the vote of the people.

Deadline for bringing a contested decision to the vote

If the authors of the referendum collect the required number of valid signatures, the bill must be put to the vote of the People. The law does not set a deadline for the vote.

Where and how to submit lists of signatures to the Federal Chancellery in Bern

Click on the link below to find out how and where to submit the signature lists at the Federal Chancellery in Bern.

Federal Chancellery - Notice: How to submit lists of signatures (pdf in German, French, Italian)

List: template (in German)