Veto referendum

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Veto referendum
Veto referendum is a synonym for citizen referendum or statute referendum. It is also sometimes called a popular referendum.

The phrase refers to times when:

  • A legislative body such as a state legislature, city council or county commission, enacts a new law;
  • A group that opposes the new law collects enough signatures within the statutory timeframe in that state to place that new law on a ballot for the voters in the relevant political subdivision to either endorse it as a law, or to withhold their approval.

When veto referenda appear on a ballot, the state's voters who vote "yes" are voting in favor of the same law that their state legislature already passed. This can sometimes be confusing. Typically, when a news report says that a referendum has failed, what they mean is that voters rejected the ballot measure. However, from the point of view of the group that forced the referendum onto the ballot through collecting signatures, they succeeded, since what they wanted to do was defeat a state law that otherwise would have gone into effect.

After a state legislature has passed a bill that may become the target of a veto referendum effort, typically those opposed to the bill have two windows of opportunity. In most states that allow the veto referendum, if citizens collect enough signatures to force the matter onto their state's ballot within a (typically) short amount of time, the targeted law does not then go into effect when it otherwise would have done so. Rather, the law is held in abeyance pending the outcome of the statewide vote. However, there is often a provision that if those who oppose the targeted law collect signatures but on a more extended timeline, that they can still force the issue to a vote but in the meantime, it will have gone into effect.

States that only allow the veto referendum

For three states, Kentucky, Maryland and New Mexico, the veto referendum is the only access their citizens have to any form of initiated statewide direct democracy. See states with referendum only.

States with veto referendum and more

These states allow the veto referendum as well as other forms of citizen-initiated direct democracy.

Examples of veto referenda

Other types of ballot measures

Use in states


See also: History of Initiative & Referendum in Alaska

Alaskan voters have turned to the veto referendum three times:


See also: List of People's Veto ballot measures in Maine

In Maine, the veto referendum is known as the "People's Veto". According to the laws governing the initiative & referendum process in Maine, the required number of valid signatures to put a People's Veto on the ballot is set at 10% of the number of votes cast for the office of Governor of Maine in the most recent gubernatorial election.

Of the 27 veto referenda that have qualified for the ballot since the first qualified for the 1910 ballot, Maine voters have rejected 15 acts of the Maine legislature and upheld (or ratified) 12 statutes.

Total veto referenda on ballot Legislative acts ratified Legislative acts rejected
27 12 15

See also