Meaning of ELECTION in English


the formal process of selecting a person for public office or accepting or rejecting a political proposition, by voting. The widespread use of elections in the modern world has its origins in the gradual emergence of representative government in Europe and North America since the 17th century. Elections are the means by which the people in a society make political choices by voting for competing candidates or parties. They are used both in the selection of leaders and in the determination of issues. The concept of elections implies that the voters are presented with alternatives and can choose among a number of proposals (or their advocates) designed to settle an issue of public concern. The presence of alternatives is a necessary condition, for though electoral forms may be used to demonstrate popular support for incumbent leaders and their policies, the absence of alternatives disqualifies such devices as genuine elections. In representative democracies, periodic and regularly scheduled elections serve not only to select leaders but also to hold those leaders accountable for their performance in office. Such elections, moreover, force candidates or parties to expose their record of accomplishment and future intentions to public scrutiny in election campaigns and thus serve as forums for the discussion of public issues and permit an exchange of influence between the governors and the governed. By mobilizing voters in a common act of governance, elections lend authority and legitimacy to the acts of those who wield power in the name of the people. There are various systems of counting individual votes and totaling them into collective decisions. The simplest means of deciding an election is the plurality rule, in which a candidate can win an election merely by polling more votes than any other single opponent. Under the majority rule, the party or candidate winning more than 50 percent of the votes is awarded the contested seat or office; he thus must poll more votes than the combined opposition. A critical difficulty with the majority formula is that, in a multiparty political system, the formula may produce an electoral deadlock if no candidate secures 50 percent of the total vote. In order to break such deadlocks, a second election is held to enable one candidate to collect a majority of the votes. Neither the majority nor the plurality formula distributes legislative seats in proportion to the share of the popular vote won by the competing parties; both tend to award the strongest party disproportionately and to handicap the weaker parties. A third system, proportional representation, is designed to remedy this defect, chiefly through the use of ballots that allow the voters to rank competing candidates (or parties) in order of preference. In modern mass electorates, formalized and standardized voting practices are the rule. Secret voting is used to discourage undue influence and pressure on voters, such as the use of bribery, intimidation, coercion, and punishment. Secret voting is chiefly achieved through the use of ballots, or sheets of paper containing the names of the various candidates or their parties; the voter indicates his preferences by marking the ballot in some way while out of public view, and then placing the ballot in a receptacle with many others. These ballots may be counted or tallied by hand, but the trend is toward the automated or computerized tabulation of them. the formal process of selecting a person for public office or accepting or rejecting a political proposition by voting. The widespread use of elections in the modern world has its origins in the gradual emergence of representative government in Europe and North America since the 17th century. Elections provide a means of making political choices by voting. This conception of elections implies that the voters are presented with alternatives, that they can choose among a number of proposals designed to settle an issue of public concern. The presence of alternatives is a necessary condition, for, although electoral forms may be employed to demonstrate popular support for incumbent leaders and their policies, the absence of alternatives disqualifies such devices as genuine elections. The widespread use of elections in the modern world is due in large part to the gradual emergence of representative government from the 17th century on. For proper appraisal, however, it is important to distinguish between the form and substance of elections. Electoral forms may be present but the substance may be missing. The substance is, of course, that the voter has a free and genuine choice between at least two alternatives. In a purely formal sense, the great majority of the more than 150 contemporary nations have what are called elections, but probably only about a third of these have more or less competitive elections; perhaps a fifth have one-party elections; and in some others the electoral situation may be highly ambiguous. The discovery of the individual as the unit to be counted was, from the 17th century on, the critical factor in the emergence of modern electoral processes. The counting of individuals, in turn, was a by-product of the change from the holistic conception of representation in the Middle Ages to an individualistic conception. The British Parliament, for instance, was seen no longer as representing estates, corporations, and vested interests but rather as standing for actual human beings. The movement abolishing rotten boroughsboroughs of small population controlled by a single person or familythat culminated in the Reform Act of 1832 was a direct consequence of the individualistic conception of representation. Once governments were not only believed to derive their powers from the consent of the governed but were expected to seek consent, the only remaining problem was to decide who was to be included among the governed whose consent was to be sought. The democratic answer was, of course, universal adult suffrage. Although it is common to equate representative government, elections, and democracy and although competitive elections under universal suffrage are in many respects a defining characteristic of political democracy, universal suffrage is not a necessary condition of competitive electoral politics. An electorate may be limited by formal legal requirementsas was the case before universal adult suffrageor it may be limited by citizens' failure to take advantage of the vote, as is often the case in American municipal and other elections. Although such legal or self-imposed exclusion affects the democratic quality of elections and may ultimately affect the legitimacy of government, it does not impede decision making by election, provided the voter is presented with alternatives among which to choose. Access to the political arena during the 18th century depended largely on membership in some aristocracy, and participation in elections was regulated mainly by local customs and arrangements. With the American and French revolutions, every citizen was declared formally equal to every other citizen, but the vote remained an instrument of political power possessed by very few. Even with the arrival of universal suffrage, the ideal of one man, one vote was not achieved. Systems of plural voting were maintained in some countries, giving certain social groups an electoral advantage. In Great Britain, for example, university graduates and owners of businesses in constituencies other than those in which they lived continued to have an extra vote until 1948. Before World War I both Austria and Prussia had three classes of weighted votes that effectively kept electoral power in the hands of the upper social strata. Whereas in the Western nations of the 19th and 20th centuries the increasing use of competitive mass elections in selecting governments had the purpose and the effect of institutionalizing the diversity of modern societies, in the Eastern, one-party, Communist regimes mass elections came to have quite different purposes and consequences. They differed from competitive elections in that each voter usually had only the choice of voting for or against the official candidate. Indeed, they were in the nature of the 19th-century Napoleonic plebiscites, in that they were intended to demonstrate the unity rather than the diversity of the people. Dissent could be registered by crossing out the name of the candidate on the ballot, as several million Soviet citizens did in each election before 1989. As voting was not private, however, this invited reprisals. It may well be that some portion of dissenting votes were cast not so much because of dislike of Communism but because of grievances involving the conduct of minor officials. This may have served to weed out some of the worst officials at the very lowest levels. Even not voting was a form of protest, especially because local Communist Party activists were under extreme pressure to get nearly a 100 percent turnout. Before the revolutions of 1989, not all elections in eastern Europe followed the Soviet model exactly. In Poland, for instance, more names appeared on the ballot than there were offices to fill, and some degree of electoral choice was possible. Many authoritarian regimes throughout the world have attempted to gain some level of legitimacy through the holding of elections. This may be done when it is clear that, because of repression, no substantive opposition is remotely feasible. Often, however, the process is more subtle in order to maximize the regime's gains. Elections may be scheduled when economic factors favour the regime and, more importantly, when election laws have been written to the severe disadvantage of competing parties. The opposition may be given little time to prepare, while the government already has various networks of supporters in place. Challengers also may be forced to campaign in an atmosphere of intimidation that precludes the effective organization of many potential supporters. A regime may cite unrelated reasons for postponing an election if it perceives a significant chance of losing. Also, it is not uncommon for government intervention to occur once balloting has begun, either in the form of voter intimidation (not infrequently actually attacking voters) or manipulating the count of votes freely cast. Additional reading Electoral processes are examined in Charles Seymour and Donald Paige Frary, How the World Votes: The Story of Democratic Development in Elections, 2 vol. (1918), still the most complete review of the history of elections in the English language; Harold F. Gosnell, Democracy: The Threshold of Freedom (1948, reprinted 1977), a survey of problems connected with electoral processes, in a historical perspective; Anthony Downs, An Economic Theory of Democracy (1957); Seymour Martin Lipset and Stein Rokkan (eds.), Party Systems and Voter Alignments: Cross-National Perspectives (1967), studies of electoral outcomes in Italy, France, Spain, West Germany, Finland, Norway, Japan, Brazil, and West Africa; Gerald L. Curtis, Election Campaigning, Japanese Style (1971, reissued 1983); Richard S. Katz, A Theory of Parties and Electoral Systems (1980), a study emphasizing campaigns and elections in Britain, Ireland, and Italy; Ivor Crewe and David Denver (eds.), Electoral Change in Western Democracies: Patterns and Sources of Electoral Volatility (1985); Paul W. Drake and Eduardo Silva (eds.), Elections and Democratization in Latin America, 19801985 (1986); Jane J. Mansbridge (ed.), Beyond Self-Interest (1990); Michael Laver and Norman Schofield, Multiparty Government: The Politics of Coalition in Europe (1990); William A. Barnett, Melvin J. Hinich, and Norman Schofield (eds.), Political Economy: Institutions, Competition, and Representation (1993); Samuel L. Popkin, The Reasoning Voter, 2nd ed. (1994); and Ivor Crewe, Anthony Fox, and Neil Day, The British Electorate, 19631992, rev. ed. (1995).Perspectives on voting and political participation are found in Henry W. Ehrmann (ed.), Interest Groups on Four Continents (1958, reprinted 1983); and Thomas E. Smith, Elections in Developing Countries (1960, reprinted 1973). Political parties, elections, and interest groups are comparatively treated in Maurice Duverger, Political Parties, 3rd ed. rev. (1964, reprinted 1972; originally published in French, 1951); Mary B. Welfling, Political Institutionalization: Comparative Analyses of African Party Systems (1973); Giovanni Sartori, Parties and Party Systems, vol. 1 (1976); Richard S. Katz (ed.), Party Government: European and American Experiences (1987); Edmund Terence Gomez, Politics in Business: UMNO's Corporate Investments (1990); Peter Mair and Gordon Smith (eds.), Understanding Party System Change in Western Europe (1990); and Arend Lijphart, Electoral Systems and Party Systems: A Study of Twenty-Seven Democracies, 19451990 (1994). Heinz Eulau Roger Gibbins The Editors of the Encyclopdia Britannica

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