Election and Referendum, how many times do you hear these words but do you actually know the difference? These are two terms that are often taken in the same sense. However, there is a difference between the two.


This is a formal decision making process by which members of the population (voters) elect a representative. This could be for numerous things, we are familiar with government and political parties but it also applies to other areas.  We use elections in our unions, governing bodies whether they are in education or the NHS, business organisations, clubs, voluntary associations and corporations too.  Elections ensure positions are voted in and filled with law-makers, decision-makers and governance.

So rounded up what is an election?

  • A process where a designated body of people ( the electorate )  choose who fills a post or posts.
  • A process controlled by a legal or regulatory framework and monitored by people who are independent of the candidates.
  • Elections should be free, fair, democratic and regular e.g. in Britain we hold Parliamentary elections every 4-5 years while local council elections take place somewhere in Britain annually.
  • Elections may be held using a number of different voting systems including First Past the Post (FPTP) where voters mark the ballot paper with a cross, which is used for most British elections, the supplementary vote (SV) where voters can express a second choice, which is used for Mayoral and Police Commissioner Elections, Single Transferable Vote (STV) where voters rank the candidates in order of preference, which is used for local elections in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Referendum (sometimes called a plebiscite) :-

This is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal, issue or question. A referendum may result in the adoption of a new constitution, a constitutional amendment, a law, the recall of an elected official or a specific government policy. It could be simply be where voters decide on what time pubs shut, how long shops stay open etc.

There are two types of referendum

  • Mandatory – meaning the government/ body must do what the result says
  • Advisory – meaning the result of the vote is only to help the government/body make the final choice

So rounded up what is a referendum?

  • It is a vote in which the electorate can express a view on a particular issue or public policy.
  • An issue which is given to the people for popular vote.
  • They may be used to discuss an issue rather than to decide or confirm policy questions.
  • Referendums can be advisory or mandatory.
  • A single issue vote.
  • Also can be called a Plebiscite , a term derived from the Latin word ‘plebiscitum’ which means ‘common people’s decree’.

UK Engage is a team of experienced election professionals whose account managers will guide you through your referendum or election process and tailor the process to suit your electorate’s needs.


Engage with Us

Do you have an election, ballot, poll, referendum, AGM or another process you need help with

Contact Us

Pin It on Pinterest