Any member of the electorate who is opposed to a new or amended law passed by the Swiss parliament can launch an optional referendum – even if they live abroad.
Individuals can join forces with other people to form a referendum committee. This makes things easier, but is not absolutely necessary.
What is more, several groups can initiate a referendum against the same new or amended law – even though they might be from different political camps. The signatures collected are counted.
The Swiss Federal Chancellery can provide information on the steps to be taken to launch a referendum, including legal aspects.
Swiss Federal Chancellery
Political Rights Section
Federal Palace West Wing
Tel. +41 58 462 48 02
For referendums at cantonal or communal level, contact the relevant office at your canton or commune.
First of all, signature lists need to be created. This should be done early on, if possible while Parliament is still debating the new law or amendment so that signatures can be collected as soon as the law is published in the Federal Gazette.
The signature lists must state the exact title of the contested law, the date it was adopted by the Federal Assembly and certain other details. On request, the Federal Chancellery can provide a signature list template, like the one pictured above.
Signature lists can also be checked by the Federal Chancellery.
Signatures can only be collected once the contested law has been published in the Federal Gazette. From this point on, the authors of the referendum have 100 days to collect the necessary 50,000 signatures, have them certified and submit them to the Federal Chancellery.
Anyone with the right to vote in Switzerland may sign.
They must enter their surname and first name, date of birth and address legibly and by hand in the list and sign it. A further requirement is that any given signature list may contain only the signatures of persons from the same commune – because the communes are the first to check the signatures.
Usually not all signatures are found to be valid. It is therefore recommended to collect more than 50,000 signatures.
All signatures collected must be verified by the communes before the collection deadline. This takes time, so the signature lists should be submitted to the communes on an ongoing basis.
The communes check that the persons who have put their signature to the referendum are entered in the electoral roll and whether a name appears more than once.
All verified signatures must be submitted to the Federal Chancellery within 100 days. More information on this can be found in the factsheet on submitting referendums.
The Federal Chancellery then checks that all the signatures are valid, in particular whether they comply with the legal requirements.
If at least 50,000 signatures are valid, then the referendum request is successful.