The initiative is very often erroneously compared to a petition. But both essentially differ from one another. A petition is a mere popular submission made to the legislature suggesting the desirability of enacting a particular kind of legislation. The legislature may or may not act upon such a petition; it is not binding on it.
But the initiative is the vindication of the inherent right of the people to propose legislation without regard to the opinion of the legislature, and even against its wishes.
It is, accordingly, mandatory on the legislature to consider all popularly initiated legislative measures. If the legislature does not approve them, but the popular vote accepts them at a referendum, they become laws.
The initiative may also take two forms: formulative and in general terms. When the demand is couched in general terms, it is the obligation of the legislature to draft, consider and pass the law as desired by the constitutionally required number of citizens, subject to the ratification of people. If the proposal is formulated in the form of a bill complete in all respects, it is the duty of the legislature to consider the measure as it is.
The initiative obtains in Switzerland, federal and Cantonal. For constitutional amendment, the petition for initiative may be made by 100,000 citizens. There is no federal initiative for ordinary laws, and the result is that the constitutional initiative has been used to place all kinds of matters in the Federal Constitution.
In the Cantons, the initiative applies to both constitutional and ordinary laws. In the United States of America, the initiative for constitutional amendment is allowed in fourteen states and for ordinary laws in nineteen states.