What does it mean to challenge a vote

The quorum in the procedures of direct democracy

Table of Contents

Direct democracy consists of procedures that enable citizens to participate in binding policy on factual issues. Direct democracy supplements representative democracy in individual cases and determines majorities on a specific topic between elections. The stronger link between politics and the will of the people makes democracy more democratic.

What are quorums?

In the case of popularly initiated proceedings, there are usually three stages that a concern must climb in order to obtain a binding vote. Each of the levels has its own hurdle. Since each stage in the process has its own function, the associated hurdles must be determined separately at each stage. Only then will they fulfill their specific function. Quorums are such hurdles. The Quorum of signatures for a referendum (= second procedural stage), for example, sets the number of signatures to be collected in order to reach the referendum stage (= third procedural stage). A referendum distinguishes between two types of voting quorum, the approval quorum and the participation quorum: One Approval quorum means that, in a referendum, a certain number of those entitled to vote must vote for the matter to be voted on in order to give the result of the vote legal effect. A Participation quorum on the other hand, a minimum participation in the vote is required as a condition for legal validity.

This paper looks at the function, consequences and appropriate level of quorums. Since quorums largely determine the relationship between direct and representative democracy - including whether direct democracy takes place at all - their design should not be arbitrary, but based on the following specific considerations:

What normative value does direct democracy have for a democratic community?

Which function, which goal should the quorum fulfill at the respective level?

Is a quorum the appropriate means to achieve this goal?

Furthermore, the empirical values ​​on quorums and their effects in Germany and other countries must be used as the basis for the quorum structure.

Democracy lives from the interest and participation of citizens and from the competition of ideas. The loss of confidence in political parties and the growing disinterest in politics as a whole are therefore a development that can have dangerous consequences for the quality of democracy. Every opportunity to offer citizens diverse forms and spaces of political engagement and to facilitate access for new ideas in the political process should be used.

With the help of direct democracy, people can also decide between the elections of factual issues. The citizenry thus retains a degree of independence from its political representatives, who are increasingly influenced by lobbyists and hand over decision-making responsibility to external expert committees or supranational institutions. If referendums take place, a factual issue that interests people is discussed in public so widely that everyone can form an opinion. In this way, general interest in political issues can be aroused and experiences can be made in forming one's own positions.

By participating in the vote, people are addressed in their role as citizens and the associated rights and obligations. The identification of the individual as part of a larger whole is strengthened. Identification is additionally strengthened when the individual has the opportunity to take the initiative together with others to bring about a decision on a specific issue. The prospect of being able to help shape one's own living conditions promotes commitment.

The very existence of a practicable co-determination regulation has a valuable preliminary effect. If citizens have binding options for action when they are dissatisfied, politicians must communicate their plans and decisions better. They have to become sensitive to the moods and concerns of the population and make it clear how they have taken people's needs into account in their policies. Communication between voters and elected becomes more transparent, more comprehensive and takes place more on an equal footing. If there is a backlog of reforms in individual policy areas, direct democracy gives citizens the opportunity to take matters into their own hands.

Direct democracy therefore has an important control, input and integration function. Their application holds great potential for the further development and revitalization of our democracy. It must be designed in such a way that this potential can be exploited and the quality of parliamentary democracy is strengthened without endangering its stability.

First, let's take a closer look at the structure of the quorums in the German federal states.

    1. The motion for a referendum

At the level of the federal states there are three-stage direct democracy procedures. In the first stage, there is either a simple application for approval to the Ministry of the Interior (as in Baden-Württemberg) or a “popular initiative” that is already addressed to the state parliament. In both cases, a certain quorum of signatures must be met, sometimes within a specified period. The spectrum in the federal states extends from 3,000 (0.02 percent of those eligible to vote) in North Rhine-Westphalia to 87,000 (2 percent) in Hesse. In Baden-Württemberg, 10,000 signatures for an application for approval on a referendum have to be collected in the first stage without a deadline. This quorum of signatures primarily has a filter and cost protection function, because in the event of a referendum there are administrative expenses and costs. The 10,000 signatures result in an initial relevance and seriousness check of the request, but above all a legal check of the admissibility. In addition to the formal requirements, the Ministry of the Interior checks whether the draft law submitted complies with the state constitution and complies with the exclusion of topics (tax and salary laws and state budget law) stipulated therein.

The state parliament will be informed of the application and will thus have the opportunity to take up the matter. However, he is not obliged to refer to it in this way. If the first stage were upgraded to a popular initiative, Parliament would be subject to consultation. In this way, new ideas and concerns could very quickly gain political attention and initiate an initial phase of discussion and positioning in parliament. In practice, Brandenburg, Hamburg, Hesse, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Schleswig-Holstein know the popular initiative instrument with the initiators' right to be heard. In this way, compromises can often be reached at an early stage. If the matter does not find a majority in the state parliament, the process of people's legislation can be continued with the second stage, the referendum.

    1. The referendum

The second stage, the referendum, is the actual qualification test for a concern. Here it is determined whether a topic is important for a sufficient number of citizens to justify the effort and necessity of a referendum. The right to put a matter to the vote does not have to be legitimized by majority democracy - just as it does not need a parliamentary majority to initiate a vote in the state parliament. Also, the desire does not yet represent the will of the people legitimized in any way. The height of the hurdle should therefore not be seen as a preliminary stage of democratic legitimation, but solely as an indicator that a topic is relevant from the point of view of a considerable number of citizens. At this stage of people's legislation, it is simply a matter of the right to introduce bills and thus put them on the political decision-making agenda. In other words, a minority has the right to put a question to the majority for a vote. The hurdle at this level is crucial for the frequency of referendums. On the one hand, it must be high enough not to endanger the stability and functionality of representative democracy. On the other hand, it must also be low enough to encourage and even challenge citizenship.

The chance of overcoming the hurdle at the referendum level results from the combination of three levers: number of required signatures, duration of the collection period and type of signature collection. For comparison: In the US states, the signature quorum averages 3-4 percent of eligible voters, in the Swiss cantons 2-3 percent, the collection period extends over several months and the signatures do not have to be given at the offices, but can be freely collected become. The situation is different in Germany. With 4 percent of the electorate, Brandenburg has the most user-friendly quorum of signatures. The collection period is 4 months. However, the official registration in the area of ​​Brandenburg has a massive impact on the chances of success. The Saarland, on the other hand, completely blocks the way to the referendum with a 20 percent quorum of signatures, 2 weeks of collecting time and official registration. There is also a very high quorum of signatures in Baden-Württemberg: 16.7 percent of those eligible to vote (currently approx. 1.3 million people) have to support a concern in the town halls within 2 weeks in order to complete a referendum. In practice, this regulation has so far led to the prevention of citizen-initiated referendums. The deterrent effect of this hurdle is so great that no initiative has dared to attempt a referendum.

    1. The referendum / referendum

The referendum is the third and final stage. This is where the citizens decide how they feel about a factual issue. Approval quorums exist at this level in all federal states except Bavaria, Saxony and Hesse. With simple laws, the variance ranges from 15 percent in North Rhine-Westphalia to 50 percent in Saarland. If the constitution is changed by the referendum, higher approval rates apply, most often 50 percent. The level of these quorums is in stark contrast to the practice in the USA and Switzerland: there, quorums are almost unknown at referendum level.

In Baden-Württemberg, 33.3 percent of those entitled to vote must approve a proposal for it to be accepted. If this condition is not met, it is irrelevant whether a majority voted for the proposal, the vote is considered invalid and the proposal is not implemented. The approval quorum of 33.3 percent is intended to guarantee that as many people as possible take part in the vote and that an (arbitrarily high) fixed percentage of citizens supports a decision before it becomes legally binding. So it is about the highest possible democratic legitimation of the decision. That goal is honorable. The questions that arise are:

Does a quorum of 33 percent meet this goal?

Is there a legitimation problem at all or justified separate legitimation requirements?

And above all: what unwanted side effects does such an approval quorum have?

The aim of this stage is to bring about a majority decision on a specific subject. In order to maximize the quality of the decision, an autonomous decision-making process of the population should precede the decision. This is guaranteed by a broad-based social debate in which as many actors as possible participate on an equal footing. This is the only way to maximize the diversity of information, perspectives and opinions and to create a decision-making process that enables every citizen to weight all the advantages and disadvantages of a decision in his or her own way. This requires specific regulations, such as reimbursement of costs for the initiators of a referendum, in order to have funds for public relations. The government should send an information brochure on the voting issue to all households, which should include all relevant facts. A donation limit or at least donation transparency may be required. Equal access to the media and public television broadcasters should be sought. Above all, however, there is a need for an active civil society that positions itself in its alliances, such as clubs, associations and non-profit organizations, and brings in its mobilizing power and arguments.

If these measures ensure population-oriented competition between opponents and supporters of the initiative for the better arguments, a quorum becomes superfluous. Why high quorums are often not effective and also cause a variety of negative side effects will be explained in the next chapter.

Basically, the question arises at this point, on the basis of which arguments procedural hurdles that considerably limit or even prevent the binding co-determination of citizens in practice can be justified at all. Once the value of direct democracy is recognized, procedures must be designed so that they can be used in practice. Only lived direct democracy can develop its positive effect.

    1. Negative effect of voting quorums

Excessive hurdles often lead to direct participation failing at procedural levels one and two. However, if there is a referendum, there are many side effects of voting quorums in general and approval quorums in particular, which have a negative effect on the functionality of direct democracy and prevent their effects from having a positive effect on the community.

Formal failure / spurious failure: A vote takes place, but the majority decision in favor of a proposal has no consequence because the voting quorum was not reached. In this case, the financial resources and the human effort for the procedure were in vain; because no decision based on the majority vote was brought about. Worse still: the citizens who initiated the process and all citizens who voted in favor of the matter in a democratically determined majority will feel that they have been treated unfairly and that the instrument of direct democracy is toothless. If formal failure occurs frequently, it is likely that citizens will turn away from direct democracy altogether.

Vote imbalance: With an approval quorum, yes votes do not have the same weight as no votes. In fact, yes votes only get voting weight when the approval quorum has been overcome. Under the quorum hurdle, they don't have the power to outweigh the no votes. A no-voting minority can prevail below the approval quorum over the yes-voting majority. The equivalence of the votes is seriously violated here.

Limitation of the committed citizen and misinterpretation of abstentions: By means of a voting quorum, the votes of those who do not take part in the vote are automatically assigned to the no camp as long as the quorum is not reached. The initiators not only have to convince the majority of the voters, i.e. the politically active citizens, but - in the case of Baden-Württemberg - 33.3 percent of those entitled to vote. However, if it is not enough to win a simple majority of the voters for a cause, then the fate of an idea and the effect of civic engagement are made dependent on those who do not take part in the vote. Passivity and disinterest can thus lead to the involvement of active citizens in vain.

Nor is it taken into account that citizens do not (want to) participate in a vote for very different reasons. An abstention due to a neutral position on the voting issue is in fact made impossible and the active citizen must unjustifiably bear the consequences. A positive incentive structure for civic engagement, which is often demanded today, looks different.

Boycott behavior as a worthwhile strategy: Approval quorums (and even more so, participation quorums) encourage tactical maneuvers and boycott behavior. If the voting quorum is high, it is worthwhile for those who oppose the proposal to boycott the voting campaign. The less public and media attention and discussion on the subject of the upcoming vote, the more likely it is that the supporters will not achieve the quorum because there is a lack of friction and public activation. Boycott behavior and refusal to discuss become a rational and repeatedly worthwhile strategy. On the one hand, costs can be saved; because if the proponents are most likely to fail because of the high quorum, why invest resources in a referendum campaign? In addition, boycotts can also avoid the risk of open voting defeat, which is always a possibility if argumentative discussion is not avoided (Jung 2009: 54).The consequences not only affect the representativeness of the result, which loses its feedback character, but also the desirable educational effect through an intensive social debate on the relevant issue.

Democracy requires participation, activity and commitment. It is a mistake when the passive opponent who stays at home and refuses to communicate is rewarded with the failure of the unloved project.

Risk of revocation of voting secrecy: If the approval quorum is high, it is worthwhile for the opponents to rely on a boycott so that only the supporters have an incentive to come to the vote. In this case, the right to secret voting is endangered and the voters may find themselves exposed to social pressure (Jung 2009: 55).

High quorums can lead to lower voting participation: High voting quorums can lead to a lower participation in the vote, as boycott strategies are worthwhile for the opponents of the proposal for the reasons described. In addition, the supporters of an initiative with a high quorum can feel a discouraging effect due to the frequent mention of the sheer impossibility of overcoming it, for example in the press, television and by experts, which can lead to non-participation in the vote. In general, the high probability of a failure of the vote on the quorum does not encourage the will to obtain information on the voting topic, to form an opinion and then to go to the vote. In these cases the voting quorum has the opposite effect of its hoped-for effect of creating democratic legitimation through high voter turnout.

  1. Negative effects of high hurdles on the 3 levels of the direct democratic process

Disregard of the principle of competence effectiveness: This (unwritten) constitutional principle states that rights granted must also be matched by opportunities for realization. If the people are promised in the constitution that they have the right to participate in legislation through direct democracy, the rules of the game of direct democracy must be designed in such a way that this right is offset by opportunities for implementation. In Baden-Württemberg there has never been a referendum initiated from below or even a referendum. This fact and the comparison with other federal states, in which far lower hurdles than those of Baden-Württemberg also lead to an almost complete blockade of direct democracy, suggest that the conditions of the people's legislation in Baden-Württemberg are so hostile to use that the principle of competence effectiveness is injured.

There is no positive preliminary effect: If the direct democratic procedural rules are fair, they do not have to be practiced often. The mere possibility of using them will change the attitude of politicians towards the sovereign. If the hurdles are too high, the direct democratic procedures no longer compete with parliamentary decision-making processes. Politicians are not required to use a different attitude, transparent communication and sensitivity to the concerns and moods of the population to prevent the application of direct democracy. If the citizens are deprived of the pressure and control function of direct democracy, there will be no dialogue on an equal footing. The positive preliminary effect, consisting of a desirable better communication between politicians and citizens, does not apply.

With high hurdles, non-binding participation procedures run the risk of becoming a playground: If the hurdles for the procedures of direct democracy are so high that they cannot be used in practice, the procedures of non-binding participation - such as round tables or planning cells - run the risk of being perceived by politicians as pure calming measures and participation placements. Because if a non-binding participation process does not work out in the interests of those involved, i.e. if no universally accepted compromise could be found, it must be possible to use the binding participation process. If all those involved know that this is the case, a dialogue takes place on an equal footing, and all negotiators have the greatest possible motivation to come to an acceptable solution.

Narrowing of political competition: The legitimation of political rule arises from fair political competition. In this competition, quorums narrow the access channel for new ideas and promote oligopolies of organizations and associations with high membership and capital that have good access to the political elite (lobbying). If a quorum is so high that the chances of success of a request are low, who then takes the considerable financial and human effort to start one? Organizationally weaker interests and groups are disadvantaged if the barriers are too high or excluded from access to the instruments of direct democracy.

The fact that there are (still) so many federal states with excessive hurdles is due to deep-seated fears and prejudices among many politicians, judges, but also citizens and citizens of direct democracy. These have shown themselves to be resistant to numerous research results and the positive experiences that have been made in other countries for several decades with direct democracy. The constitutional courts in particular are overly cautious and unjustifiably system protectionist when it comes to overdue reforms of direct democracy. Most of the fears and uncertainties revolve around the question of the legitimation of a voting result and the assertiveness of extreme minorities. These two topics are discussed in more detail in the following sections.

In the Basic Law, Art. 20 (2) it says: All governmental power comes from the people. It is exercised by the people in elections and votes and through special legislative, executive and judicial organs.

The people are thus defined in the Basic Law as the highest source of legitimation. Problems of legitimation in popular legislation can therefore only arise with regard to the justification of the majority principle and ensuring the functioning of the parliamentary system.

The voting participation

Also referendums and the resulting laws are always based on majority decisions, potentially only determined on other than the last election. This majority is based on the number of people who vote, as is the case with elections. Amazingly, there is seldom a legitimation deficit in elections, even if, as is often the case with mayor elections, representatives are elected for a period of 8 years with a low turnout of around 30 percent.

Although parliamentary legislation is based on the idea of ​​a consensus of the majority of those entitled to vote (Engelken 2000: 882), since 100 percent of those entitled to vote do not participate in any election, in practice this is never the case. Our parliamentary representatives are elected by active citizenship (those who vote) and then have legislative powers that bind the entire people, including those who did not vote, those who did not vote and future generations. According to Meerkamp (2011: 473) it is at least questionable whether MPs with full legislative competence, which the people granted them without a minimum participation in an election, should restrict the people to vote with a simple majority.

In addition, experience shows that participation in referendums - without amalgamation with an election - averages 38 percent in the German federal states (50 percent at the municipal level). Even the voting participation in Switzerland at the federal level averages 40 percent, despite the high frequency of votes and direct democracy that has been practiced for many decades. The differences in the level of participation usually depend on whether the citizens personally consider the vote to be important, whether they understand the issue and whether it is a controversial issue.

It is true that in elections the turnout is indeed higher, because fewer people are affected to a lesser extent by the consequence of a referendum on a single issue than by an election decision which a government establishes for the next four years. But even in referendums, participation will in most cases not fall below a certain threshold; because pluralistic democracies simply do not allow a power vacuum. When a factual issue is put to the vote, the parties, economic interest groups, civil society interest representatives and many citizens who have a general political interest and / or are specifically affected take a position. Anyone who wants to be perceived as a political actor will use this opportunity to find supporters among the population. Lobby groups that have dedicated themselves to specific issues will take the opportunity to use the sudden attention given to their issue to gain social support. The structure, diversity of actors and functioning of a healthy pluralistic democracy will always ensure that a wide variety of arguments and perspectives on a topic are discussed, and a vote without a quorum will enable citizens to make decisions. Thereafter, a majority resolution will be implemented based on the majority of the votes cast. The fact that participation is not as large as in elections due to the more limited impact of a factual decision is not a disadvantage per se; those who are concerned and / or interested and therefore also more informed tend to vote.

The acceptance of direct democratic decisions

It also makes sense to discuss the legitimation of a voting decision in connection with the actual acceptance of the result by the population. The social acceptance of the results of direct democracy is usually higher than in the representative legislative process. Citizens had the opportunity to influence the result directly with their own voice and, if they did not take part, accept that the participants would have a say in their decision. That means: In practice there is no legitimation or acceptance problem of direct democratic decisions.

The social acceptance and thus also the satisfactory effect of the results of direct democracy depend to a large extent on whether the procedures of direct democracy are fair. This concerns the level of the quorums, the possible choices for the question, the complexity of the question, etc. It is also important whether the previous phase of the decision-making process was carried out under fair conditions. This is about questions of reimbursement of costs for the actors, a budget limit, fair media reporting and media access, fair use of resources, provision of all relevant information and such a thing more.

Special legitimation requirements

All that remains is the objection that there are constitutionally justified legitimation requirements for popular legislation. Such do not emerge from the democratic principles of the Basic Law (Art. 20) or from the state constitutions. As long as the stability of parliamentary legislation, which is one of the inviolable basic democratic ideas (BayVerfGH of April 13, 2000 (note 2), is not endangered, direct democracy is not necessarily linked to additional legitimation requirements by constitutional channels. is proven by the combination of reasonable application and request hurdles with a quorum-free vote in other countries. In the opposite direction, however, one can argue that high hurdles that prevent direct democracy in practice can very well stand in the way of a state constitution, the direct democratic one Provides instruments (more precisely: which contains the constitutional rank, appreciation or even equivalence of direct democratic instruments, BayVerfGH 17.09.1999 [note 2] under II. 2c).

Again and again, opponents of direct democracy cite the worst-case scenario that, without a voting quorum, a small, easily mobilized minority prevails against the silent, disinterested majority. Or in another version: that a wear and tear would set in, which means that only the supporters of a proposal will bother to go to the vote at all. In Switzerland, this thesis was examined in 1993 by Kris Kobach. In approx. 900 cases, several 100 cases, he tested whether the results of the referendums matched the actual majority opinion of the population determined by direct questioning. There were major deviations in only 19 cases. However, only in one single case has a referendum resulted in a majority in favor of the motion, even though the majority of the population was against it according to a representative survey.

In addition, empirical values ​​show a different reality: In Bavaria, the CSU won the majority of referendums against the initiators. In Switzerland, only every tenth popular initiative succeeds and in the US states three out of five popular initiatives are rejected (Tiefenbach 200 ?: 3). Another study by Wolf Linder in 2005 showed that templates with 30 and 60 percent participation were accepted and rejected approximately equally often. This means that with an average and very constant participation in the vote of 40 percent, it does not depend on the participation in the vote which side is more likely to prevail in a referendum.

Voting quorums want to solve a pseudo problem at this point with inadequate means and yet bring with them the negative aspects already listed above. With these clear results, empirical research refutes the fear of direct democratic preference for extreme minority positions. In general, it should be pointed out again at this point that proposals that violate fundamental rights are inadmissible in Germany and therefore cannot be put to a vote, just as human rights cannot be weakened by parliament.

    1. Quorum of signatures for the petition / popular initiative (first stage of the procedure)

10,000 signatures can be considered appropriate for the purpose of an initial relevance and seriousness test of a matter. However, the application signature quorum should not be much higher, because at this level it is still about a formality and not about the general relevance of the idea for a large part of the population. If this stage is upgraded to a popular initiative, this should help to quickly incorporate new ideas into the political process. An obligation to refer to the state parliament can be justified by 10,000 signatures.

    1. Quorum of signatures in the referendum (second procedural stage)

It remains to be said that it is not the task of the quorum of signatures in the referendum to prevent minority regimes; this must and will be done by the corresponding majorities in the referendum. The quorum at this level must test the relevance of the issue and ensure that new ideas and specific issues have a chance of getting on the political agenda. In parliament it takes 5 percent of the MPs to initiate a vote on a motion. Under certain circumstances, these five percent represent far less than five percent of the population, since fewer than all eligible voters always take part in an election.

In the Basic Law, parliamentary legislation and votes by the sovereign are equated: So why should different hurdles apply to the initiation of a procedure? If 5 percent of the electorate consider a concern important should it be sufficient to get a vote on. Instead of “all eligible voters”, the more sensible reference value would be “the number of participants in the last election”, i.e. the number of politically active citizens. And even then it is even more difficult for citizens to overcome this hurdle; because the members of parliament are already organized in parliamentary groups and it is therefore much easier for them to form relevant alliances. Five percent of those eligible to vote in Baden-Württemberg are just under 400,000 people. If 400,000 people are convinced of an idea, is this idea not worth voting on? Empirical values ​​from other countries show that a 5 percent quorum (like 4 percent or 3 percent) does not lead to excessive use of the referendum instrument and the associated effort. Other facilitations, such as an extension of the collection period, the extension of official registrations and the reduction of subject exclusions, do not trigger inflationary use: In these countries, representative democracy is supplemented by direct democracy at an appropriate frequency, i.e. not endangering stability.

    1. Approval quorum for referendum (third procedural stage)

In order to determine the support of an idea in the population, it is necessary no approval quorum. As with elections, there is a phase of intense public discussion and the exchange of arguments. This serves to disseminate information and to enable citizens to form an opinion. Then comes the day of voting. Then the yes and no votes are counted and the majority decides whether the bill is accepted or rejected. To burden this process with a quorum is unnecessary and counterproductive. Because, as mentioned above, the quorum is unsuitable for guaranteeing high voting participation; the opposite is even the case, since public dialogue is inhibited. Rather, it is political competition and the intensity and diversity of the social debate that has taken place beforehand that can mobilize people to vote and thereby really bring the majority principle to bear.

The quorum of approval in referendums is a pseudo solution for a pseudo-problem and is therefore superfluous, as can also be seen from the experience of the federal states in Germany, the states of the USA and all of Switzerland without a voting quorum: There one is far from problems with acceptance of the decisions made by the people and a dominance of extreme minorities over the “real” majority.

Interesting, but unfortunately going too far at this point, are considerations of possible measures that actually increase the desirable participation in referendums and the political commitment of citizens.

In this context, complex social issues such as the lack of time resources to get involved politically, the lack of community ties, the breakdown of solidarity structures and the lack of educational opportunities must be examined more closely.

Concrete direct democratic Process configurations that could be used directly in order to increase participation in votes in general are as follows:

  • Upgrading the application for approval to the popular initiative,

  • Facilitation of the referendum by significantly lowering the quorum as well as free collection and a much longer period,

  • Abolition of the approval quorum for referendums,

  • Combination of voting with elections, if possible,

  • Reduction of subject exclusions,

  • Parliamentary alternative proposal (already possible now, but still to be regulated fairly by a key question, Section 20 of the Referendum Act),

  • Ensuring equal information through voting brochures to all households, on the Internet and in public media,

  • Reimbursement of costs for the public relations work of initiatives

Graphical representation of the effect of approval quorums:

Approval quorums significantly reduce the chances of success of an initiative by cutting out the left-hand part of moderate participation (gray for the 33 percent approval quorum) from the upper field of the voting majority.

The likely results of a vote are in the blue circle. It comprises the range of usual voting participation in combination with the range of probable approval shares. On average, 40 percent of those entitled to vote in Germany take part in a vote if it has not been combined with another election. And on average, the approval rate of the participating citizens is 50 percent.

The various colored curves show how approval quorums work: The 33.3 percent approval quorum currently in force in Baden-Württemberg for simple laws means that, for example, if the vote is 50 percent, 67 percent of those who vote would have to vote for the proposal, so that the bill is deemed to have been adopted. With a participation of 40 percent, 83 percent of the voters would have to vote for the proposal in order to achieve the quorum. Since the percentage of approval rises above 65 percent of the voters only in cases of very unlikely agreement (the top point of the blue circle) and the voting participation only extremely rarely exceeds 55 percent (rightmost point of the blue circle), the graph makes it clear that the chances are to meet a 33.3 percent approval quorum, go to zero. The set of probable results in the blue circle does not intersect with the green-colored area of ​​a successful vote in the sense of desire.

Even with a 25 percent approval quorum, the chances are still small, while 20 percent still limit the chances of success, but no longer make them the exception if a majority vote is achieved. Only at 15 percent the negative effects of the quorum would almost disappear. Lowering the quorum to this level would therefore be a considerable step forward, but it remains superfluous for all of the reasons mentioned above.

Meerkamp, ​​Frank (2011): The quorum question in the people's legislative process. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Springer Fachmedien GmbH 2011: Wiesbaden.

Tiefenbach, Paul (200?): Sense or nonsense of voting quorums. Positions on direct democracy. More democracy e. V. Access under:

Engelken, Klaas (2000): Democratic legitimation in plebiscites at the state and municipal level. In: The Public Administration DÖV, Volume 53 (Issue 21), pp. 881-895.

Lars P. Feld / Gebhard Kirchgässner (2009): Effects of Direct Democracy - What Does Modern Political Economy Say? In: Dare to more direct democracy, ed. by Hermann K. Heussner and Otmar Jung, 2nd edition, Munich, pp. 417-430.

Funk Patricia / Gathmann Christina (2009): Does Direct Democracy reduce the size of government? New evidence from historical data, 1890-2000; CES Ifo Working Paper No 2693, accessible at: bitly.com/bundles/handelsblatt/2

Kobach, Kris (1993): Direct Democracy in Switzerland. Dartmouth Publishing Co Ltd.

Linder, Wolf (2005): Swiss democracy. Institutions, processes, perspectives, Bern.

You can find more information on the hurdles of direct democracy in the federal states in comparison (referendum races) and annual reports (referendum reports) on the procedures taking place on the homepage of Mehr Demokratie e.V .: