Direct Democracy

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Should our democracy allow national referendums?

The president called it a move to start the country over again. It limited the amount of land anyone could own. It declared the state was secular, meaning not religious. It required judges to be elected. It did these things and much more. It was the constitutional referendum in Bolivia in 2009.

Materials (pdf)

Direct Democracy— Lesson:








Links to Principles

The nature of democracy changes and grows along with its citizenry, but it’s always based on principles that help citizens modify, uphold, and strengthen their democracy. Visit the DDA Democratic Principles and Activities page to learn more about the principles underlying democracy and gain access to activities that help students understand the complexity of democracy. 

We’ve identified some democratic principles addressed in this lesson “Should our democracy allow national referendums?” What principles might you add to the list below?

Please click here for the pdf of the fourteen principles handout on our Democratic Principles & Activities page.



In a democracy elected and appointed officials are responsible for their actions and have to be accountable to the people. Officials must make decisions and perform their duties according to the will and wishes of the people they represent, not for themselves or their friends.

Citizen Participation

Citizen Participation
citizenparticipationOne of the most basic principles of a democracy is citizen participation in government. Participation is more than just a right—it is a duty. Citizen participation may take many forms, including running for election, voting in elections, becoming informed, debating issues, attending community meetings, being members of private voluntary organizations, paying taxes, serving on a jury, and even protesting.  Citizen participation builds a better democracy.

Control the Abuse of Power

Control of the Abuse of Power
abuseofpowerOne of the most common abuses of power is corruption, which occurs when government officials use public funds for their own benefit or they exercise power in an illegal way.  To protect against these abuses, democratic governments are often structured to limit the powers of government offices and the people who work for them.  For example, the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government have distinct functions and can “check and balance” the powers of other branches.  In addition, independent agencies can investigate and impartial courts can punish government leaders and employees who abuse power.  


transparencyFor government to be accountable, the people must be aware of the actions their government is taking.  A transparent government holds public meetings and allows citizens to attend. In a democracy the press and the people are able to get information about what decisions are being made, by whom, and why.


Selected Resources

DuVivier, K.K., "The United States as a Democratic Ideal? International Lessons in Referendum Democracy," Temple Law Review, vol. 79 (2006), 821, (accessed via SSRN, June 27, 2011).

Initiative and Referendum in the 21st Century: Final Report and Recommendations of the NCSL I&R Task Force (Denver, CO: National Conference of State Legislatures, July 2002).

Morales Viteri, Juan Pablo, Ecuador: Mecanismos de democracia directa (Geneva, Switzerland:
Centre for Research on Direct Democracy, 2008).

Ramírez, Gustavo A., Leonora Alonso Pinzón, Mexico: Mecanismos de democracia directa (Geneva, Switzerland: Centre for Research on Direct Democracy, 2008).

Rupire, Johnattan, Perú: Participación ciudadana y mecanismos de democracia directa(Geneva, Switzerland: Centre for Research on Direct Democracy, 2008).

Thomas Acuña, Evaristo, Colombia: Entre la crisis de la representatividad y la democracia directa (Geneva, Switzerland: Centre for Research on Direct Democracy, 2008).