In Depth

The world's five most unusual referendums

Not all countries allow for direct democracy and this might be why

As the UK's Brexit saga continues to drag on and on, there may be some comfort in knowing other countries have fallen for the allure of an unorthodox national plebescite.  

Here are five of the more unusual referendums that have taken place across the globe:

Lawyers to represent animals in court: Switzerland, 2010

Switzerland already had some of the strictest animal welfare laws in the world when the public were asked to decide whether abused animals needed legal representation. Animal rights groups argued that creatures great and small having their own lawyers would cut the number of abuses going unpunished. Lawyer and major proponent of the move Antoine Goetschel proposed a nationwide system of state-funded animal defence lawyers - but the Swiss said non, no and nein, with 71% voting against.  

Extraterrestrial affairs commission: Denver, Colorado, 2010

This initiative called for greater transparency and better cooperation from the government on UFO sightings. Supporters said the commission would “help ensure the health, safety, and cultural awareness of Denver residents” in potential encounters with other-worldly beings. However, many residents viewed the vote as meaningless and simply a way for conspiracy theorists to spread their ideas using the city website. The people of Denver overwhelmingly rejected it with an 82% vote.

National song selection: Australia, 1977

During Australia’s 1977 referendum on a number of serious topics, the government of the time added an optional question to the ballot paper: which song best represents the national identity? “God Save the Queen” had been the national anthem since 1788, but the paen to the British monarchy had fallen out of favour. Australians were given the options “God Save the Queen,” “Advance Australia Fair,” “Song of Australia,” and “Waltzing Matilda.” The latter was the only option written by an Australian, but 43% of people felt most connected to “Advance Australia Fair”, and it’s been the anthem ever since.

Dummy cop partner: San Francisco, California, 1993

Ventriloquist dummy Officer Brendan O’Smarty was born after his human partner, San Francisco police officer Bob Geary, joined a community policing programme that encouraged officers to use “creative and ingenious methods” connect with citizens. The two would entertain children while on patrol, and in 1993 a referendum vote that made O'Smarty a permanent fixture of the force until his retirement in 2000.

Which way to roll: Saskatchewan, Canada, 1997

Trying to think of a fun and low-stakes issue on which to test out new voting machines, Saskatchewan posed an age-old question: should toilet paper hang over the top or under the roll? The vote got to the roots of what the town wanted to see in their public toilets and the answer was clear: 80% said over. That’s that settled, then.

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