Election is a procedure for choosing officers or making binding decisions concerning policy by the vote of those formally qualified to participate. Elections are widely held in private organizations, such as corporations, or labor unions, to select officers or to settle specific policy questions. Elections alos may take place within specific governmental bodies or institutions, as, in the United States, when members of a state legislature elect a speaker of the house. The discussion that follows, however, will locus on public elections for officers of governmental units or to decide public policy issues. Such elections commonly have a larger number of persons entitled to participate and are part of the total political process within the governmental system.
In many political jurisdictions members of the legislature are popularly elected by the qualified electorate. In some, the chief executive-president, governor, or mayor-also is popularly elected. Less frequently, members of the judiciary are chosen by the mass electorate.
In some countries, notably France, and in certain states in the United States, voters also may participate directly in making specific policy decisions at the polls.
History of Elections
Elections were held in the Greek city-states in the 5th and 6th centuries BC. Most public offices in Greece were filled by lot-a reflection of the belief in the equality of those who had citizenship. But a few offices for which special qualifications were needed were filled by election. Voting was often by a show of hands in a public assembly. But written votes, and ballots in the form of pebbles, also were used.
During the Middle Ages, the tradition of elections was preserved in the church. Superior ecclesiastical officials, such as popes and bishops often were chosen by a small electorate of those next in rank. Under feudalism the position of the feudal emperor, overload, or king was generally held to be limited by the law and custom, and, to some extent, by the consent of his vassals. However, institutions and procedures for enforcing these limits often were unavailable.
Adapted from Encyclopedia Americana