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The vast majority of laws and legislative acts enter into force uncontested. However, if you disagree with an act of parliament, it is possible to oppose it by launching a referendum. This is known as an optional referendum, as legislation is not automatically contested in this way. If enough signatures are collected to support the referendum, the contested law – or other form of legislation as set out in the Constitution – is put to popular vote. A referendum can also be requested by a minimum of eight cantons.
A majority of the valid votes cast (simple majority) is sufficient to reject an optional referendum, i.e. for the contested legislation to be accepted and become law.
Some legislative acts passed by parliament, in particular amendments to the Constitution, must automatically be voted on by the Swiss electorate. This is known as a mandatory referendum.
In this case, any change to the law requires both a majority of the valid votes cast and the majority of the cantons (double majority).
A popular referendum can be launched by any Swiss citizen with the right to vote – including Swiss living abroad.
It is also possible to launch a referendum at cantonal and communal level. These often have a greater scope than federal referendums. For example, in several cantons it is possible to launch a referendum on financial matters (for expenses above a certain amount).
Please consult your canton’s website to find out about what kind of referendum can be launched in your canton and how to go about it.