The representatives form more than one independent ruling body (for an election period) charged with the responsibility of acting in the people's interest, but not as their proxy representatives; that is, not necessarily always according to their wishes, but with enough authority to exercise swift and resolute initiative in the face of changing circumstances. It is often contrasted with direct democracy, where representatives are absent or are limited in power as proxy representatives.
In many representative democracies (Canada,Australia, UK, etc), representatives are most commonly chosen in elections by a plurality of those who are both eligible to cast votes and actually do so. A plurality means that a winning candidate has to win more votes than any other candidate in the race, but does not necessarily require a majority of the votes cast. While existing representative democracies hold such elections to choose representatives, in theory other methods, such as sortition (more closely aligned with direct democracy), could be used instead. Also, representatives sometimes hold the power to select other representatives, presidents, or other officers of government (indirect representation).
A representative democracy that emphasizes individual liberties is called a liberal democracy. One that does not is an illiberal democracy. There is no necessity that individual liberties are respected in a representative democracy.
Today, in liberal democracies, representatives are usually elected in free, secret-ballot, multi-party elections. The power of representatives in a liberal democracy is usually curtailed by a constitution (as in a constitutional republic or a constitutional monarchy) or other measures to balance representative power:
The term republic may have many different meanings. Today, it often simply means a state with an elected or otherwise non-monarchical head of state, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran or Republic of Korea. It may also have a meaning similar to liberal democracy. For example, "the United States relies on representative democracy, but [its] system of government is much more complex than that. [It is] not a simple representative democracy, but a constitutional republic in which majority rule is tempered by minority rights protected by law.(Scheb, John M. An Introduction to the American Legal System. Thomson Delmar Learning 2001. p. 6)
In Britain of late, there has been considerable discussion as to how the electoral system might be reformed to increase its representativeness. Significant proposals have included:
1. introducing more technologically advanced, elector friendly, and secure voting/political communication methods;
2. holding two-stage elections or run-off ballots in multi-candidate constituencies so that no candidate can get elected on the basis of just a small portion of the total vote. (Modern developments in tele-voting have enormously increased the speed and reduced the cost and effort of holding such ballots);
3. legislating for equal-sized constituencies and adopting measures to ensure more accurate and up-to-date electoral registers;
4. halting and reversing recent experiments in Continental European-type indirect (party proportional, corporatist) representation which reduce political competition and voter choice and influence compared with the traditional Anglo-American system of direct (territorial, local community ) representation;
5. scrapping various protectionist-type curbs on the private funding and advertising of political parties;
6. further extending the franchise; and
7. increasing the ratio of significant elected to non-elected political posts: creating substantially more elected as opposed to appointed or hereditary positions.