Virtual representation exists between an individual residing in a territory or state and a bureaucrat, elected official, (or un-elected official!) when the individual in question did not vote for or take part selection for the position. For example, the citizens of the District of Columbia are virtually represented by the U.S. Congress, as they do not elect any voting members of that body.

The representative in question is assumed to protect the interests of the individual he virtually represents. For instance, although a 6 year old does not vote for his state’s senator, the senator is assumed to weigh the interests of the child in his decisions. Obviously, there is a disparity between the term and the reality, as elected officials are more likely to acquiesce to the desires of voters. For example, United States Congressmen are assumed to represent the interests of residents who never vote, but they will never value the interests of a group of non-voters over a group of voters, should a difference exist.

A major historical example of virtual representation is the situation which existed between America and the British Parliament before the American Revolution. The argument that virtual representation existed was used to justify the passage of any law without actual representation. This made perfect sense most Britons, as people living in the British Isles were not franchised if they did not possess a certain amount of property, and some government bodies like the House of Lords were hereditary.

Of course, taxation without representation was never really a major concern of American colonists; the colonists did not want representation in Parliament. A representative from Boston or Philadelphia could not be expected to have a great deal of interest in subjects like the cost of bread on the London turnpike. Of course, the same problem applied between the British Parliament and the American Colonies. This was one of several factors which begat the American Revolution.