In the aftermath of World War II — following Adolf Hitler’s use of four different referendums to solidify his Nazi reign — Germans were largely opposed to ever again placing such direct democracy in citizen’s hands, instead of having their elected representatives do it for them.
They may have been on to something. If this year has taught us anything, it’s about the danger of asking regular people to make monumental decisions in popular referendums. From Brexit to the Colombian peace process to Hungarian migrant quotas, we’ve watched regular old citizens this year choose to remove Great Britain from the European Union, vote against ending a 50-year-war in Latin America, and free Hungary from its responsibility to accept migrants and refugees (although it remains to be seen if turnout on that last one may have been low enough to nullify it altogether).
Below, Foreign Policy has chronicled some of the world’s most widely controversial referendums. And just as voters have taken to the polls to make decisions on these questions, we want you, dear readers, to cast your vote in our Twitter poll to determine which of the four ideas below is the worst of them all. So read up, and then cast your vote below. (To be more historically accurate, vote before reading up on the issues.)
In a year of terrible referendums, we invite you to read up and vote on the very worst: https://t.co/MwZVT3lARg.
— Foreign Policy (@ForeignPolicy) October 3, 2016
The One Where Switzerland Banned Mosques from Building Minarets
In a 2009 vote that proved how one small party proposal can inspire a nation to take action on a question as important as minaret construction, the right-wing Swiss People’s Party convinced 57.5 percent of Swiss voters to vote in favor of a ban on mosques building minarets into the Swiss constitution. At the time there were some 150 mosques in Switzerland, only two of which had minarets. Two more had plans to build them, but none of them conducted the call to prayer. Critics say the SPP earned support for the ban by fear-mongering Swiss citizens with propaganda that encouraged a narrative that Muslims, of which there are 400,000 in Switzerland, were a threat to traditional Swiss ideals.
The One Where Crimea Decided to Join Russia
Roughly a month after Russian forces took control of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, voters took to the polls to determine whether or not Crimea would officially join the Russian Federation. The vote came after pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted from power in Kiev. Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would support the wishes of the Crimean people, and lucky for him, the vote came out at 95.5 percent in favor of joining Russia. The United States has insisted the referendum and annexation is illegal.
When the French and the Dutch Rejected the EU Constitution
In 2004, representatives from 25 European nations gathered to sign the European Constitution in hopes it would later be ratified and adopted across the continent. But the next year, French and Dutch voters sent shockwaves across Europe when their referendums resulted in resounding “no” votes against the constitution, ultimately forcing into existence the Treaty of Lisbon, which essentially replaced the plan for a European constitution. Signed in 2007, the international agreement became effective in 2009.
The One Where California Tried to Ban Gay Marriage
In November 2008, Californians were asked on their state election ballots if they wanted to amend the state constitution to only recognize marriage between a man and a woman, essentially blocking same-sex couples from choosing to get married and also nullifying any earlier same-sex marriages. Although the law was later ruled unconstitutional in California, it took the Supreme Court to ratify those rulings — which it did in 2013.
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