I hear people say that in the US and a few other representative democracies, they also have direct democracy, that is not possible. Below I reason why.
In the United States a number of states have some measure of direct democracy, from 8 to 27, depending on what you consider direct democracy.
Direct democracy is when the people decide issues.
Sometimes they decide that a new law should be enacted or an amendment added to the constitution, other times they decide a law enacted by the legislature should go to referendum.
Some analysts want to pass as direct democracy actions that are not direct democracy at all.
For example, in some US states the people can send to the legislature a people’s initiative but the legislature decides if it will be enacted or not.
Clearly that is not direct democracy at at all, such initiatives are not worth the effort and paper they are written on. They are little more than the freedom to petition. It is not direct democracy. Those who consider it direct democracy are ignorant or dishonest.
Same goes for the referendums that the legislators or the executive initiate. It is not direct democracy because the politicians decide when and about what the referendum will be.
Direct democracy happens only when the people initiate the initiative and when the executive and the legislature must comply with the results of the popular vote on the initiative, if the initiative is approved by the people and by simple majority.
Direct democracy also happens only if the people initiate the referendum and if the results of the referendum are mandatory for the executive and the legislative if the popular proposal passes.
For example, the Brexit referendum was not direct democracy at all, although it was more democratic than the usual practice of governments in representative democracies, to decide, event the most serious issues, like go to war, change the constitution or change taxes, and everything else, without the people voting on the issue.
It is not direct democracy either, if its exercise is so difficult that people are discouraged because it takes too much money or effort. This happens if the number of signatures is too high, the time span too short or if, as it happens in the US, moneyed lobbies of the left or the right take over the process, effectively making it impossible for ordinary citizens to launch an initiative or a referendum.
Another factor that kills direct democracy is if the courts can overturn the results of popular referendums and initiatives because “they are not compatible with the constitution” of the state or of the US. In a direct democracy only another popular vote can overturn the results of a popular vote. The courts can only intervene if there is fraud or other illegalities in the process.
Besides these flaws at the state level, in the US does not have direct democracy because the most important level of government in the US, the Federal Government, is not subject to direct democracy at all.
Direct democracy is like pregnancy; you have it at all levels or you do not have it; if the people do not have the last you do not have it either.
Like pregnancy also, direct democracy must be obvious, relatively easy to exercise, pleasurable and pleasant, at least until the result is known…
So, let us reject the shenanigans about fake direct democracy, as well as “deliberative” or “participatory” democracy.
There is only one democracy, direct democracy; when the people govern.
At the very least we must have Swiss-style representative-direct democracy. This means we still have political parties and elected politicians, but there are important additional provisions:
1. The people initiate the initiatives and referendums.
2. The executive and the legislative must comply with the results of votes.
2. The executive and the legislature can not initiate initiatives and referendums.
3. The judges can not overturn popular votes for reasons of “inconstitutionality” because the people make the constitutions as they go. Like a famous Spanish song says: “people make the trail as they walk”, there is no trail before people walk.
4. Collecting signatures, and the time required to collect them. is such that ordinary citizens can have organize and have initiatives and referendums voted on, several times per year.