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

What are Elections?

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.

Elections in Summary:

  • 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.

What are Referendums (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

Referendums in Summary:

  • 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’.

So What Is the Difference Between an Election and A Referendum?

In summary, while elections revolve around selecting representatives for various positions, referendums involve direct votes on specific issues or policies. The distinctions between these two democratic processes are essential for citizens to engage meaningfully in the democratic system and comprehend the implications of their participation.

elections centre around the selection of representatives who will make decisions on behalf of the electorate, covering a broad spectrum of issues within the purview of their roles. The process is characterised by periodicity, stability, and the delegation of decision-making authority to elected officials. In contrast, referendums focus on direct citizen participation, allowing voters to express their views on specific issues or policies. These singular, often event-driven votes provide a more flexible and immediate means for the public to influence decisions, with outcomes that can be binding, especially in mandatory referendums.

Election and Referendum Support From UK Engage 

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. We can offer a wealth of expertise in all aspects of electoral services, voting, surveys, scrutineering, adjudication services, member engagement and referendum management.

If you are looking for expert electoral services advice, then look no further than UK Engage. Contact us on 0345 293 5555 or email enquiries@uk-engage.org

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