The topic of what is an election? Is a big question. As traced far back to centuries ago, the word; Election has been used consistently in countries, schools, churches and different sittings to set up leaders among a particular few or over bigger organizations and nations of the world. An election is a formal group decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual or multiple individuals to hold public office.
Elections have been the usual mechanism by which modern representative democracy has operated since the 17th century. Elections may fill offices in the legislature, sometimes in the executive and judiciary, and for regional and local government. This process is also used in many other private and business organisations, from clubs to voluntary associations and corporations.
The global use of elections as a tool for selecting representatives in modern representative democracies is in contrast with the practice in the democratic archetype, ancient Athens, where the Elections were considered an oligarchic institution and most political offices were filled using sortation, also known as allotment, by which officeholders were chosen by lot.
Electoral reform describes the process of introducing fair electoral systems where they are not in place or improving the fairness or effectiveness of existing systems. Psephology is the study of results and other statistics relating to elections (especially to predict future results). An election is a fact of electing or being elected.
To elect means “to select or make a decision”, and so sometimes other forms of ballot such as referendums are referred to as elections, especially in the United States.
Elections were used as early in history as ancient Greece and ancient Rome, and throughout the Medieval period to select rulers such as the Holy Roman Emperor (see imperial election) and the pope (see papal election).
In the Vedic period of India, the Raja (kings) of a Gaṇa (a tribal organization) was elected by the Gana. The raja always belonged to the Kshatriya varna (warrior class) and was typically a son of the previous raja. However, the Gana members had the final say in his elections. Even during the Sangam Period, people elected their representatives by casting their votes and the ballot boxes (Usually a pot) were tied by rope and sealed. After the election, the votes were taken out and counted. The first recorded popular elections of officials to public office, by majority vote, where all citizens were eligible both to vote and to hold public office, date back to the Ephors of Sparta in 754 BC, under the mixed government of the Spartan Constitution. Athenian democratic elections, where all citizens could hold public office, were not introduced for another 247 years until the reforms of Cleisthenes. Under the earlier Solonian Constitution (circa 574 BC), all Athenian citizens were eligible to vote in the popular assemblies, on matters of law and policy, and as jurors, but only the three highest classes of citizens could vote in elections. Nor were the lowest of the four classes of Athenian citizens (as defined by the extent of their wealth and property, rather than by birth) eligible to hold public office, through the reforms of Solon. The Spartan election of the Ephors, therefore, also predates the reforms of Solon in Athens by approximately 180 years.
In our today’s world or rather contemporary age. Elections have been divided into different ways, we have the Democratic and Non-Democratic types of elections, remember, this is not the government, which is either democratic, autocratic or non-partisan.
We must look at the two forms, as highlighted above on election:
1. Democratic Election:
Jeane Kirkpatrick, scholar and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has offered this definition: “Democratic elections are not merely symbolic. To him, they are competitive, periodic, inclusive, definitive elections in which the chief decision-makers in a government are selected by citizens who enjoy broad freedom to criticize the government, to publish their criticism and to present alternatives.”
What do Kirkpatrick’s criteria mean
Democratic elections are competitive. Opposition parties and candidates must enjoy the freedom of speech, assembly, and movement necessary to voice their criticisms of the government openly and to bring alternative policies and candidates to the voters. Simply permitting the opposition access to the ballot is not enough. Elections in which the opposition is barred from the airwaves has its rallies harassed or its newspapers censored, are not democratic. The party in power may enjoy the advantages of incumbency, but the rules and conduct of the election contest must be fair.
Democratic elections are periodic:
Democracies do not elect dictators or presidents for life. Elected officials are accountable to the people, and they must return to the voters at prescribed intervals to seek their mandate to continue in office. This means that officials in a democracy must accept the risk of being voted out of office. The one exception is judges who, to insulate them against popular pressure and help ensure their impartiality, may be appointed for life and removed only for serious improprieties.
Democratic elections are inclusive. The definition of citizen and voter must be large enough to include a large proportion of the adult population. A government chosen by a small, exclusive group is not a democracy–no matter how democratic its internal workings may appear. One of the great dramas of democracy throughout history has been the struggle of excluded groups–whether racial, ethnic, or religious minorities or women–to win full citizenship and with it the right to vote and hold office. In the United States, for example, only white male property holders enjoyed the right to elect and be elected when the Constitution was signed in 1787. The property qualification disappeared by the early 19th century, and women won the right to vote in 1920. Black Americans, however, did not enjoy full voting rights in the southern United States until the civil rights movement of the 1960s. And finally, in 1971, younger citizens were given the right to vote when the United States lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.
Democratic elections are definitive:
They determine the leadership of the government. Subject to the laws and constitution of the country, popularly elected representatives hold the reins of power. They are not simply figureheads or symbolic leaders.
Finally, democratic elections are not limited to selecting candidates. Voters can also be asked to decide policy issues directly through referendums and initiatives that are placed on the ballot. In the United States, for example, state legislatures can decide to “refer,” or place, an issue directly before the voters. In the case of an initiative, citizens themselves can gather a prescribed number of signatures (usually a percentage of the number of registered voters in that state) and require that an issue be placed on the next ballot–even over the objections of the state legislature or governor. In a state such as California, voters confront dozens of legislative initiatives each time they vote–on issues ranging from environmental pollution to automobile insurance costs.
2. Non – Democratic:
In many countries with a weak rule of law, the most common reason why elections do not meet international standards of being “free and fair” is interference from the incumbent government. Dictators may use the powers of the executive (police, martial law, censorship, physical implementation of the election mechanism, etc.) to remain in power despite popular opinion in favour of removal. Members of a particular faction in a legislature may use the power of the majority or supermajority (passing criminal laws, defining the electoral mechanisms including eligibility and district boundaries) to prevent the balance of power in the body from shifting to a rival faction due to an election.
Non-governmental entities can also interfere with elections, through physical force, verbal intimidation, or fraud, which can result in improper casting or counting of votes. Monitoring for and minimizing electoral fraud is also an ongoing task in countries with strong traditions of free and fair elections. Problems that prevent an election from being “free and fair” take various forms.