Referendums and initiatives have long been described as deliberatively deficient and unfit to implement deliberative democracy. Categorized as aggregative mechanisms, they would undermine quality deliberation by setting predefined policy options to potentially polarizing mass votes, with no room for face-to-face exchange nor opportunities for citizens to develop informed judgments. Recent developments in deliberative democratic theory increasingly challenge this view. This article builds on this literature to argue that referendums and initiatives can serve deliberative systems by incentivising representatives to engage in recursive representation – namely, conversation-like exchange at the mass level with the represented deemed essential to deliberative systems. They do so by modifying the formal opportunity structure of representative actors, which impacts them in popular vote campaigns – but also over the long term. Acknowledging these long-term effects of systems including referendums and initiatives opens new questions that can guide further research on these processes’ value for deliberative democracy.