Direct democracy essentially means that the balance of power shifts from the elites to the voters.
In a direct democracy, the political leaders, the political parties, the big corporate and professional lobbies and the top bureaucrats have less power than the voters. In a direct democracy, voters become the top and final decision makers. Even the highest court of the land can not overturn the results of a public referendum. All the court could do is order a repetition of the referendum if illegalities have been committed in the process of collecting signatures, the campaigns, vote counting, etc.
In other words, in a direct democracy the voters are the top decision makers. This is what democracy is supposed to be. As you probably know, democracy is the system of government invented by the Ancient Greeks some 2600 years ago.
To the Greeks, “dēmokratia” meant “popular government,” from dēmos “common people” and “kratos” “rule, strength”. This clearly means that the people, the common people are the ones ruling. If the Greeks had meant “rule by those elected by the people” they would not use the word democracy, they use an expression like “διακυβέρνηση από εκλεγμένους αντιπροσώπους” which more or less means “rule by the elected representatives”.
The term “representative democracy” would not make sense to the Greeks because it is an oxymoron; what sense does it make to say: “rule by the representatives of rule by the people”. If it is rule by elected representatives it is not rule by the people, if it is rule by the people it is not rule by the elected representatives.
The term “representative democracy” is a trick some leaders of the French Revolution, among them, the totalitarian Robespierre, who was happy to guillotine the French King and his absolute power, but quickly assumed absolute power, until he was executed too. Unfortunately, the term, and that form of elected aristocracy governmemt which is what representative democracy is, survived him.
Representative democracy is a huge improvement over absolute rule by kings, dictators or priests, because it brought political freedom, so that people could speak fairly freely and also decide who would be ruling the country.
The English accomplished that much too, far earlier than the French and with less blood shed, although they just muddled through, without the intellectual, head and shoulders above, elegance of Madame Guillotine. Nevertheless, the French Revolution was great leap forward, it made people aware that the people should have political freedom and also should be able to decide who governs, although the people still would not govern.
Direct democracy means rule by the people, nothing else. Representative democracy would be real democracy, or very close to it, if the people let the elected politicians develop policies and laws but the people reserve for themselves several key powers. When that happens is as if the people say: “we have direct democracy a la carte; on any issue we want to decide, we have the power to do so”.
These are the major power the people have in a direct democracy, which they do not have in a representative democracy:
The power to reject any policy or law developed by the politicians.
The power to tell the politicians what specific additional policies and laws they must develop and put into practice.
The power to change the constitution without the consent or support of the politicians, and beyond the reach of the highest court in the land.
The power to organize referendums at the local, state, provincial, regional and national levels, to decide any policy, law or change to the constitution, approximately 1% of registered voters sign a demand to hold a referendum. The demand can not be turned down by the executive or the legislature, even if both bodies unanimously disagree with the demand. The highest court in the land can not stop a referendum,or its results either. The results of referendums are binding for government. Government can propose alyernatives to the organizers of the referendum, who may accept ot reject them.
The people who collect the signatures are also given plenty of time to do so.
The number of signatures required and the time alloed to collect them, must make it easy to meet both requirements, otherwise the will of the people could not be readily known.
Another important aspect of direct democracy is that any person or group, any political party (even it has no elected representatves), can collect the required signatures. This means that in a direct democracy the concerns of any political, social, linguistic or ethnic minority, able to collect the signatures of 1% of registered voters, has the opportunity to have their concerns formally considered by their fellow citizens.
Some people say that direct democracy can turn into the “dictatorship of the majority”. Certainly, history does not show that. Ancient Greek democracy did not allow women and slaves to vote but that was not because of democracy, even before democracy, women and slaves were not allowed to participate in political life. To the Greeks, it was natural to keep women and slaves off democracy because they have always been kept off politics.
But we should not forget we are talking of 2600 centuries back. I have no doubt that if Greek democracy had survived, women would have gained the right to vote much sooner than they did when Judeo-Chistianity became dominant. Likewise with respect to slavery; I have no doubt it would have been abolished sooner because the inquisitive Greek mind would have figured out, sooner than any religion or civisation, that keeping women out of public life and keeping slaves was wrong. It is because their sense of justice that they arrived at the conclusion democracy was the more ethical form of government.
In the only direct democracy we know have, Switzerland, there is no dictatorship by the majority at all. The overwhelming German-speaking majority, 64% of the country has shown no desire at all to vote based on their ethnic-culture; they know that to impose their “cultural” will will trigger civil unrest, and that would not be good for them either as unrest damages daily life for everybody.
Direct democracy is superior to representative democracy because it prevents politicians from going off on their own. The mechamisms and rules of direct democracy ensure that the politicians must follow the will of the people on any importan issue. In a direct democracy, politicians soon learn that they must ensure any policy or law must gain acceptance among voters, otherwise it will be killed by them.
This forces rival politicians and parties to work together. In a direct democracy, even if party wins an absolute majority, it does not have freedom to pass a law if the majority of voters do not support it, because they voters could organise a referendum and vote it down. So parties, at leasy tha major parties, work cooperatively because they know they need the support of the majority of voters, for the policy oir law to survive
Another advantage of direct democracy is that in it the voters are responsible for what happens to the country. They know that if they do not hold a referendum to stop a law or government policy, it is because they did not act when they could.
The responsibility direct democracy places on voters, others also forces them to be informed, to listen to the arguments of political parties, of other interested groups and also independent experts.
The wider debate ensures more ideas are considered, and this generates a better solution. In representative democracies there is no formal public debate leading to a decision by the public; the politicians debate, they listen to their own experts (who always have a political or professional ax to grind). In representative democracies politicians seek experts to back uop what they want to do. In a direct democracy the people want to listen to all important experts. In a direct democracy more independent experts participate in public forums, giving the people more unbiased information than the information the experts hired by government and parties give politicians.
Direct democracy also forces people to center on the practical aspects of the issues, not the ideological aspects. Ideology-centered decisions, polarize voters and also force voters to vote with the ideologicak herd they belong to. This tyope of voting is more emotionalk and less rational.
How do I know all this about direct democracy?, because I study Swiss direct democracy. Swiss direct democracy includes all levels of government. It gives people the final say on natiomal issues too. This is why it is superior to California-style democracy. Besides, it is a lot easier to collect the required signatures in Switzerland than in California.
There is another problem for Californians, for a number of reasons, for Californian voters, it is not obvious that if they vote for more public services, taxes or debt will have to be raised, that they are responsible. In part it is because the level of government with most impact on Californians, on taxes and most other key issues, is the Federal Government, which is completely outside any derect democracy control by voters, by the taxpayers.
Some people say that direct democracy is not practical in a large country, not so. The major issues are common to most countries, large and small. Keep in mind also that Swiss style, like California style, direct democracy are direct democracies by exception; if voters feel politicians are following the will of the people and do not annoy the people, the people will not call for referendums.
Modern technology, which safely allows us to purchase good on line with credit or debit car, pay with email, etc., can also be made capable to accept votes with a voting card.
Surveys show that most Americans, Canadians, Europeans, etc., favor direct democracy. If those countries do not have it is because the politicians do not want their power reduced, for obvious reasons, but also because us, the voters, do not actively demand it.
The Swiss were in the same situation until 154 years ago. As a result of another pandemic they said; “enough of is not representative democracy, from now on we will have direct control of the politicians on any issue we decide to control, voting to elect them and then let them loose is not enough!” The results are in: Switzwerland is by far, the most democratic better governed country in the World,