noun, plural ref·er·en·dums, ref·er·en·da [ref-uhren-duh] /ˌrɛf əˈrɛn də/.

  1. the principle or practice of referring measures proposed or passed by a legislative body, head of state, etc., to the vote of the electorate for approval or rejection.Compare initiative(def 4a).
  2. a measure thus referred.
  3. a vote on such a measure.

noun plural -dums or -da (-də)

  1. submission of an issue of public importance to the direct vote of the electorate
  2. a vote on such a measure
  3. a poll of the members of a club, union, or other group to determine their views on some matter
  4. a diplomatic official’s note to his government requesting instructions

1847, “a submitting of a question to the voters as a whole” (originally chiefly in reference to Switzerland), from French or German, from Latin referendum “that which must be referred,” literally “thing brought back,” neuter gerundive of referre “to bring or take back” (see refer). As a gerundive, it has no plural in Latin; referendums is preferred in English.

A vote by the general public, rather than by governmental bodies, on a bill or some other important issue; a plebiscite. (See under “American Politics.”)

A direct popular vote on an issue of public policy, such as a proposed amendment to a state constitution or a proposed law. Referendums, which allow the general population to participate in policymaking, are not used at the national level, but are common at the state and local levels. A referendum is often used to gauge popular approval or rejection of laws recently passed or under consideration by a state legislature. A referendum can also be used to initiate legislative action.

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