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Representative Democracy Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Crystal Ladwig
Voting is a privilege that comes with living in a democracy. But there are different types of democracy. Would you be surprised to learn that the United States is NOT a true democracy? Keep reading to find out more.

What is a Democracy?

Have you ever gone with your parents to the voting booth on election day? Maybe you've voted for things in your class at school, like your class president or the types of treats to have for a class party. If you've voted, you've participated in a democracy.

There are different types of democracies, but we're going to describe two here. A direct democracy (or a 'true' democracy) is a type of government in which all people vote on major issues. This type of government was first practiced in Ancient Greece. Voters had to learn about every important issue so they could make educated decisions. Imagine the time and energy it would take to learn about every issue facing a community, like how much people should pay in taxes or when to go to war.

In a community like Athens, Greece, this worked well. But in a country the size of the United States, it's not very practical and can't be accomplished easily. The amount of time and money it would cost to hold votes as often as decisions need to be made is unreasonable. Our Founding Fathers chose a different type of government for us to help with the problems of running a democracy. They established the United States as a representative democracy.

Greek citizens would meet in an agora like the one shown here to discuss the political issues of the day.
Agora in Athens

What is a Representative Democracy?

In a representative democracy, voters don't vote on every major issue. People don't have the time to make decisions about what roads should be built, how much money the fire department should get and other important decisions. Instead, they vote for other people to represent them and make those types of decisions. In the United States, this happens at local, state, and national levels. In your local community, voters elect people to run their community (such as mayor, sheriff, commissioners, council members, and school board members). At the state level, voters select people to run the state (such as a governor, judges, and state legislators or lawmakers). At the national level, we elect the president as well as representatives from our own state to serve in the United States Congress (Senate and House of Representatives) to make laws.

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