Should the government financially support cows with horns? What should an Olympic delegation be called? What about spending taxpayer money to host ski races? These are just some of the questions 30 million citizens across four countries will have to answer this weekend.
It amounts to the most interesting referendum weekend of 2018. That’s following a year of headline-making democratic exercises, from local elections in Tunisia and Indonesia to ballots in Mexico and Brazil as well as key votes in Russia, Italy and the United States.
Historic referendums also took place in Ireland, New Caledonia and Colombia.
On this last weekend in November, eligible voters across four jurisdictions will be involved in examples of genuine citizen-lawmaking.
British Columbia, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Taiwan will see probably the most comprehensive simultaneous exercise of modern direct democracy in history – a showcase for observers of the initiative and referendum process across the globe.
Switzerland and Liechtenstein: Cow horn and skiing
This weekend’s three Swiss ballot questions have triggered a lot of public debate as they touch on several of the country’s sore spots, from animal welfare to the limits of direct democracy and the welfare system. While polls will close at noon on Sunday, most Swiss have already made their decision and delivered their ballots by postal mail or e-voting. (swissinfoexternal link.ch will have continuous coverage as the results come in on November 25).
Switzerland’s smallest neighbour, the Principality of Liechtenstein, is delivering another example of modern direct democratic practice this weekend.
This as a consequence of a parliamentary decisionexternal link in September to sponsor the cross-country skiing world cup finals, known as “Tour de Ski”, with CHF800,000 ($806,500) in the coming years.
A month later more than 1,700 signatures were delivered to the State Chancellery (with a minimum of 1,000 out of totally 20,000 eligible voters), triggering the November 25 popular vote.
Since 1919, more than 100 nationwide votes on substantive issuesexternal link have been held in Liechtenstein, whose political system is a unique blend of absolute monarchy and modern direct democracy. The monarch has the right to veto the people’s decisions while the citizens themselves can dismiss the prince via initiatives and at the ballot box.
British Columbia: election process
An ocean and a continent away in British Columbia, an electoral reform referendumexternal link is taking place.
It is a fascinating example of a truly careful way of bringing citizens onto democracy’s centre stage via direct democracy. In a process dating back to a representative Citizens’ Assembly in the early 2000s, more than 3.5 million voters in Canada’s most western province will decide on the modernisation of their electoral process.
In an all-postal voting process (since there are no longer any physical ballot stations), B.C. citizens can answer two questions: What electoral system shall be used in the future to determine election results, the existing first-past-the-postexternal link system or a proportional systemexternal link (PR)? And, what type of proportional voting system should be used if PR is chosen?
In this second question, voters will be asked to rank three different systems: dual-memberexternal link (a new model) , mixed memberexternal link (like in Germany or Scotland) or rural-urbanexternal link (like in the Nordic countries). It sounds very complicated, but the B.C. Election Commission has spared no effort to make this popular vote as accessible and the electorate as well-informed as possible. The official voter guide is available in 15 different languages including Spanishexternal link, Germanexternal link and Koreanexternal link.
Taiwan: referendum bonanza
The main two changes allowing for this upswing of active citizenship and participatory democracy included the lowering of the necessary signatures to qualify an initiative or a referendum (from 5% to 1.5% of eligible voters) and the lowering of the quorum for the validation of a popular vote (from a 50% turn-out to a 25% approval quorum).
As a result, no fewer than ten issuesexternal link are to be voted on this weekend, alongside a series of local elections for mayors, city councils and district wards.
These popular votes include issues like same-sex marriage, LGBT rights, food security, nuclear power as well as the name of the Taiwanese delegation to future Olympic Games. The Olympics issue offers insight into the specific challenges facing Taiwan, one of the most vibrant democracies worldwide.
Since Taiwan is a new participant in what could be considered the Champions League of modern direct democracy, it will be especially interesting to observe and learn from this Saturday’s ballot box exerciseexternal link in which more than 200,000 poll workers will be deployed to receive and count hundreds of millions of ballots. Since the country has a history of vote buying and fraud during its pre-democratic times, every vote will have to be delivered and counted manually.
Except for British Columbia’s referendum, where voting will end on November 30, we will have all the results from this remarkable weekend by Sunday night. Hopefully, both the winners and the losers of the individual races and referendums will feel they have benefited from this year’s Champions League finals for modern direct democracy.