Representative democracy is a form of democracy in which citizens allow others — usually elected officials — to represent them in government processes and are not necessarily directly involved in any of the processes of legislation or lawmaking. This form of democracy has become especially popular in regions where the number of citizens is so great that direct representation would have the potential of becoming overly complicated or bogged down. Some people believe that one drawback of representative democracy is that the representatives might not properly serve the people whom they are supposed to represent.
In representative democracies, the representatives typically serve in a chamber such as a senate, parliament, house of representatives or similar government body that is known by another name. In a direct democracy, the citizens themselves would draft bills, debate them and vote to pass them into law. Representative democracy instead allows the citizens to elect people who handle those responsibilities and tasks for them. This might seem as though it creates unnecessary separation between the people and the laws that are being made, but the intention is that the representatives receive the education and training that are necessary to better understand the complicated needs of their jurisdiction.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Some people believe that in a representative democracy, it would be ideal for the elected officials to be highly educated people who understand the needs of the people and can come up with solutions to complicated social and governmental problems. In many cases, however, representatives are often based on shared beliefs and opinions with certain segments of the populace, regardless of those representatives' education, knowledge or ability to solve problems. This is seen by some people as a weakness of representative democracy, in that the representatives might serve their own needs and preferences over those of the people. Proponents of representative democracy often point to the fact that the citizens choose the representatives by direct elections, so they ultimately help decide what will be made into law.
In smaller jurisdictions, direct democracies might be found instead of representative democracies. Such smaller areas might have populations that are small enough to allow for direct drafting of bills and voting on such measures by the populace. This is often seen at a city or regional level where petitions are made, signatures are collected and bills are drafted by legal professionals and voted upon by members of the public. In some direct democracies, representatives cast votes based on the wishes of the people they represent rather than their personal desires.