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Elections may be regarded as one procedure for aggregating preferences of a particular kind.

Liberal democratic theories attribute special authority to the amalgamation of the expressed preferences of individuals through recognized procedures. They reject the idea that social choice can be made by some sort of group mind or interpersonal entity built out of individuals but different from them in kind. They also reject the idea that social choice is a mere illusion, that is, the notion that what appears to be a choice between alternatives is really no more than the consequence of the interplay of various forces.

But it has been argued, in the attack on welfare economics (Arrow 1951; Little 1950), that the preference schedules of individuals cannot be amalgamated without paradox except on one of two conditions: either through the operation of a market or through the compliance of individual participants with decisions by a recognized authority.

Liberal theories would certainly accept the idea that in certain cases to be defined social choice is made and should be made through the market or by relying on authority. But they postulate also that there are and should be public decisions in which citizens make an explicit choice between alternative courses of public action. This can be done in practice only through forms of procedure generally accepted as binding within the political society.

Voting is one of these procedures but not the only one. It is relevant to quote an authority on the practice of the Dominican order in the Middle Ages (Galbraith 1925, p. 33) to the effect that choice might be made by vote, by explicit agreement after negotiation, or “as if by the inspiration of God.” Certainly one finds everywhere, even in the most developed societies, choice by bargaining between factions and choice by acclamation, and there may be other procedures as well. It appears, however, that in “liberal” societies voting is held in reserve as a procedure possessing special authority within the group, organization, or state. Conversely, elections are by no means the only occasion for procedure by vote. Voting on propositions is of great practical importance in many different social and political situations, and it raises similar problems of formal analysis (Black 1958).

Voting in nationwide elections has a position of special importance in Western democracies. Its authority is strengthened because similar procedures are used for social choice in many institutions, large and small, public and private, throughout the society. (It is not greatly weakened by the existence of formal paradoxes of voting, even though these anomalies are of some tactical importance to groups seeking victory for their own interests.) This predominance has led to the export of voting in elections to countries where voting procedure has not historically possessed the same social authority as in the West: countries of the Soviet bloc on the one hand and developing countries on the other. This may give rise to situations in which the procedure exists but the element of choice does not.

Definition of elections

Thus, it is not always easy to answer the question, What is a real election?— and it may be useful to attempt a formal definition. What follows is based on English usage of political terms and may not have general validity, but it will serve to indicate important points for discussion.

One requires, first, the concept of recognized positions or roles (“offices”) which confer certain powers and duties within an organization. Individuals may be assigned to office either by choice or by a method independent of choice, such as a rule of inheritance, or seniority, or regulated trial by competition. Next, a general concept is needed, such as “to choose a man for a job” or perhaps “to decide between candidates for a job.” Within this concept, one must distinguish among “electing,” “appointing,” and “co-opting” a man. In English each word has overtones of political evaluation. “Election” (provided it is “free”) would be deemed “democratic” and therefore good, but for certain positions only. “Appointment” would be regarded as “patronage” that tends to increase the power of the patron, except insofar as it is hedged by rules specifying the field of “qualified” candidates. “Co-option” smacks of oligarchy, the self-perpetuation of a ruling group, unless similarly regulated.

On this basis election might be defined as a form of procedure, recognized by the rules of an organization, whereby all or some of the members of the organization choose a smaller number of persons or one person to hold office of authority in the organization.

This definition raises a number of points. (1) It attempts to embrace both formal procedure and social significance—both “rules” and “choice.” Ideally, both elements should be present in an election. To mark a ballot paper and drop it in a ballot box is not “electing” unless the actor “chooses” in some socially significant sense. But equally a choice is not a “vote in an election” unless the chooser conforms to the specified legal procedure. J. L. Austin made the same point (1961; 1962) when he said that “I vote for Mr. A” is not a statement but a verbal act or performative utterance and that the same act can be achieved without words where this is the proper procedure. Nevertheless, it may be convenient to use the word “election” for something that falls short of such completeness; for instance, where procedure is followed but no choice is present, or where there is a significant element of choice without close conformity to a socially recognized procedure (Akzin 1960).

(2) The rather loose word “organization” is chosen here deliberately. The word “election” is not used only for “state” elections to a hierarchy of public bodies. Indeed, it could be maintained that state elections are effective only where electoral procedure is regarded as a usual procedure throughout the society and is therefore written into the rules of all sorts of nonpublic bodies, such as business companies, trade unions, free churches, sports clubs, and so on. Nor would it do to replace “an organization” by “a society.” This might imply that a voter can choose only within his society, whereas multiple membership of overlapping organizations is characteristic of complex societies, and one man may be a voter in many different capacities and under different rule systems.

(3) Two phrases in the definition—“the rules of an organization” and “the members of an organization choose”—refer to fundamental conceptual problems in social science. All that need be said here is that ordinary language about elections deals with persons acting within systems of ethical norms and legal procedures. It is possible to reject this language, as would happen if either economic determinism or behaviorism were strictly applied in social science. Such studies might have substantial predictive value in relation to electoral behavior, but they would leave unanswered some fundamental questions about what men think they are doing when they participate in elections.

(4) The word “office” implies a position designated by the same system of rules that determines the electoral procedure. The general problem is that in all social systems persons must somehow be linked to offices; election is one of many different procedures used to ensure legal succession to office in different organizations and societies.

(5) It remains to distinguish election from appointment or co-option. There are ambiguities in usage here. For instance, fellows of a college would use the word “elect” both for choosing a master and for choosing a junior colleague; critics of the college system might accept the former usage but would describe the latter as “co-option.” Political advantage may be drawn from these ambiguities at various levels of political debate; in England, at least, “election” is a good word, “patronage” is a bad word, and “co-option” lies in between. This usage suggests the following distinctions:

(a) In an election the choosers are a relatively numerous body. Choice by one voter would, of course, be an appointment. But how many choosers are needed to make an election?

(b) There is a question of proportion as well as of absolute number. If ten choosers voted to fill one office, one might call it election; if they filled 100 offices, one would tend to call it appointment (or even patronage). But once again there is no sharp point of division.

(c) There is a question of the relationship between the choosers and the office to be filled. A person co-opted would be a colleague; a person appointed would be a subordinate, even though he might exercise great discretionary power; a person elected would hold an office of authority, which might include authority over those who elected him.

(d) It may be said that when electing, the voters act independently of one another and more or less at the same time, whereas an appointing body acts in consultation, with each member sharing in the deliberation and expressing his point of view in turn until a conclusion is reached (Akzin 1960). This is a very important problem in the study of political development, but it seems to be a distinction between voters and councilors, rather than between election and appointment. Deliberative procedure in council is very widespread in human societies at all stages; under some circumstances (which have nowhere been seriously studied) the device of voting is used to bring issues to a conclusion. But election does not inevitably entail voting; in certain societies the proper procedure for election is by council, in others by acclamation, and in yet others by voting.

Historical development

Elections first took a central place in politics in the Greek city-states of the eastern Mediterranean in the fifth and sixth centuries B.C. There has been no systematic study of elections in societies independent of this Western tradition; certainly, traces are to be found elsewhere, but it does not seem that elections have played a central part in other societies. In the following discussion it has been assumed that electoral procedures can usefully be studied historically in terms of the diffusion of a social pattern from a single source and its modification in a great variety of situations. Further, it is assumed that these procedures correspond functionally to certain general social needs, which are particularly marked in literate, technological, and mobile societies; hence they have periodically reappeared, after setbacks, in new forms in new corners of Western society. Finally, it is assumed that where these procedures meet no social needs they may be retained as forms but are filled with a new content.

The heroic age . The poems of Homer reflect a state of society in which rule was by kings whose position was conspicuously unlike that of the “Oriental despots” of the river valley civilizations with which they came in contact. The evidence of the mythological and epic narratives is difficult to use, but it suggests a situation roughly parallel to cases found in mobile African societies where the king, although drawn from a royal lineage, emerges as leader by a process which may include competition, conciliar election, and acclamation by the people. Clearly the leader of the war coalition, Agamemnon, had attained his precarious eminence among other kings by a process of this kind. Analogies can be drawn from Tacitus’ account of the Germans and from the world of Teutonic, Scandinavian, and Icelandic epics.

The Greek democracies . The epic period of tribal mobility was succeeded by one of peasant agriculture tempered by growing commercial activity and emigration to colonies overseas. From this situation emerged the strife between the well-born and the people, which affected Greek ideas and practice about political institutions almost everywhere. Where this strife was intense, Greek elections assumed new forms, either through a complete popular victory or through attempts at compromise.

We are primarily concerned not with voting on measures in popular assemblies but with the choice of persons to fill offices of authority. Two points are of general importance. First, in voting on propositions in the assembly of the citizens the rule was apparently that of individual voting by show of hands (χειρоτоνι^ν). Use was also made of written votes (in the procedure of ostracism) and of ballots in the form of pebbles (ψήøоι)—hence, psephology. There was at times a leader of the assembly who held his informal position (for example, Pericles, Cleon, Demosthenes) because of fairly stable majority support. But holders of certain legally recognized offices (in particular, archons and generals) were elected by nonlocal constituencies known as tribes (øμλáι), which were held to have been instituted deliberately so as to cut across local divisions of interest within Attica. The number of voters in each tribe must have differed a good deal.

Second, the principle of election was accepted somewhat grudgingly in Athenian democratic theory; it infringed the principle of equality among citizens, and it was dangerous because it opened the way to power for ambitious, attractive, and well-trained young men of the old families (for example, Alcibiades) and equally for ambitious men of the people who were prepared to perpetuate their electoral victory by force (the common pattern of Greek “tyranny”). The orthodox principle was that citizens should hold offices of authority in rotation, the order to be determined by lot; this was the practice for the Council of 500 and its monthly committees, which maintained continuity in the control of public business, and also for the selection of juries (methods of “balloting” for juries are described in great detail by Aristotle, Politeia athenaiōn, chapters 63–66). Similar institutions were common in early English and American practice, and rotation in office is still quite usual in small voluntary societies. But there has been no modern discussion of the relation between the principles of rotation in office and that of election by vote. It is notable, however, that in general the Athenians used voting for elections to offices requiring special skills, such as military leadership, whereas in Western countries voting is now used to fill offices of a representative character, for which the Athenians used the lot; offices requiring special skills are now generally filled by appointment from a field determined by specified professional qualifications.

The Roman republic . Even under the republic the Romans never accepted the principle of “one man, one vote.” Decision in legislation and in the choice of the principal officials was by a plurality of “centuries” or by a plurality of “tribes”: within each of these constituencies one man, one vote prevailed, but the units varied in size. It was tactically important that each of them had some local basis, but locality was not decisive in their composition.

The medieval church . The tradition of ancient elections was preserved in the church rather than in the state. It continued unbroken in the Roman Catholic church, but many national and nonconformist churches also developed the use of elections as the basis of a legitimate claim to hold office. (It is an interesting coincidence that “election” has in Protestant theology a different meaning: that of the granting of spiritual grace to God’s elect.)

The most ancient and continuous tradition has been that of the election of superiors (popes, bishops, deans, priors, and so on) by a relatively small electorate consisting of those next in rank. Up to a point the procedure is deliberative, tending toward a conclusion by “sense of the meeting.” But there are also ancient and complex rules about voting procedures. These rights of election were defended, strongly but not always with success, against hierarchical and secular attempts to substitute appointment.

There is an undercurrent (almost Athenian in tone) emphasizing the electoral rights of the many against the few. In Presbyterian terms, the congregation will defend the position of the elders in appointing a minister insofar as that position is endangered by the lay patron, but it claims the right to confirm or to upset the verdict of the elders. Dissent sometimes accepts the authority of a charismatic leader; but it often tends toward the equal sovereignty of all true believers, which may be shown either by election or by rotation in office.

Feudalism . The position of the feudal emperor, king, or overlord was deemed to be limited by law and custom and to some extent by the consent of his vassals.

The relation between king and lord and between lord and man was in principle one of consent leading to binding mutual obligation. The vassal chose to do homage, the lord chose whether or not to accept it. It was not a long step from this to an elected emperor and (in a few instances) an elected king. The social situation greatly limited the application of the principles of consent and election in practice; but the idea of a binding legal right of succession to office emerged slowly, along with the growth of other notions of private and heritable property.

In principle, the king was independent insofar as he could “live of his own.” But this was a limited independence in a period of quite rapid change, and in many cases its boundaries were obscure. Hence the need for consultation, first with a feudal council, then with assemblies “representing” others besides immediate vassals. These assemblies were the basis of the parliamentary tradition in Europe. They embodied two principles not yet wholly obsolete:

(a) The separate representation of “estates,” which might be more or less numerous; for instance, great lords, great clergy, lesser lords, lesser clergy, burghers, peasants.

(b) The representation of local communities but not of individuals. The classic case is that of the English House of Commons, based on two knights from every shire and two burgesses from every burgh. Apart from the great men of the realm, the “units of account” in government were shires and burghs, not individuals. The choice of representatives by communities was a matter for each community, within the general law of the land. Elections thus established themselves in national government but without any national enactment about electoral procedure.

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries . In most of Europe the assemblies of estates were displaced by autocratic, modernizing monarchies. For the diffusion of elections the only important survival was in England (the parliaments of Scotland and Sweden survived but had little or no influence outside their own countries) and in colonial assemblies based on the English model. During the struggle for survival certain basic principles of consent, franchise, and representation were hammered out; although these principles were never fully applied in practice, they were recognized as the ideological basis of a system of democratic elections. The classic statements are those of English popular leaders in the 1640s and 1650s: their language recalls both that of nonconformist congregations and that of Athenian democracy. The principle, in brief, is that all governments owe their just powers to the consent of the governed and that in numerous societies this consent may be expressed by representatives freely elected on a basis of universal adult suffrage.

This principle can readily be elaborated in institutional form, for example, by the extension of the suffrage, the equalization of constituencies, proportional representation, the elimination of intimidation and corruption, and so on. These elaborations in turn lead to political situations which illustrate ambiguities in the principle; for instance, as regards the relation between elected and electors, is there a difference between a “representative” and a “delegate”? [See Representation.]

Parties in elections . By far the most important of these new problems is that of parties as intermediaries between voter and assembly. Clear recognition of this situation came first in American presidential elections, but it spread rapidly with the extension of the franchise in large states in the nineteenth century. By the last quarter of that century, parties and elections had become interdependent. Electoral parties were no longer limited to national politics; trade unions and large cooperative societies are obvious examples. But national elections are henceforth intelligible only in terms of parties; the traditional principles demand the scrutiny of procedure within parties, since they control the first stage of national elections. [See Parties, Political.]

Plebiscitary democracy and “unfree” elections . The predominance of parties has led to a change in the character of national elections, even in countries where electoral procedure is in constant use at subnational levels. The choice of a man to hold office as a member of an assembly has given place to a national vote between different “packages” consisting of leadership, party, and program. The election is a choice of government or even of regime, and voting procedure is called on to bear new strains. In stable democracies the strains are mitigated because there is an understood difference between governmental structure (“government”) and government in power (“regime”), and the former is not questioned by electors. But where this distinction is not drawn the strain may prove too great for the electoral system to bear, and the element of choice is removed (or greatly reduced) by various devices. The oldest of these are plebiscitary democracy, which dates from the time of Napoleon I, and the exercise of influence on elections by officials of the government in power, without blatant breach of legality. The reductio ad absurdum of these trends appears in “elections” such as those of East Germany, where a vote of 99.9 per cent was recorded in favor of the government in 1964. Such a result could only be due to fraud, or pressure, or both. However, the fact that the regime deems elections necessary seems to pay tribute to the immense strength of the tradition that elections confer legitimacy. [See Democracy.]

The functions of elections

This brief historical summary illustrates the persistence and adaptability of the use of electoral procedure as a means of legitimating the assignment of a person to an office of authority. It may be said that electoral procedure is functionally analogous to procedure in a marriage ceremony: “Do you take this man (or woman) to be your lawfully wedded husband (or wife)?” “I do” (Austin 1962). The point in time at which “I do” is said is not psychologically a moment of choice or decision—that came earlier; it is the point at which an individual preference becomes a social commitment. The words and acts are “performative”; if correctly said and done in the right context, they establish new social relationships of a binding character.

Such acts are generally associated with ritual which underlies the multiple relationships linking them to a complex system of behavior and belief. To continue the analogy with marriage ceremonies, there is a possible range of ritual complexity from ostentation to extreme simplicity—but even in marriage by registration in an advanced secular society, some elements of ritual are present. There is the same wide range in electoral ritual—for example the election of a pope and that of the directors of a manufacturing company; but in both cases there is a procedure which has binding effect if properly followed.

Thus, it is possible to speak of elections in general as a “ritual of choice”; the binding character of elections derives from the participation of an individual as chooser in a social act, and legitimate authority is thus conferred on the person chosen. But such a generalization tells one little about the position of elections in any given society.

Men are called by different kinds of elections to different offices in different societies. The historical sketch given above notes only a limited range of cases, but it may be sufficient to indicate that it is rash to talk of the function of elections. This may be illustrated by the British case. A British general election serves to choose a governing party and thus a government. But (on the one hand) that government, though powerful, has not a monopoly of legitimate authority in the political system. This authority is shared by many others—those professionally qualified by education and experience, the leaders of organized interests, property owners of various kinds, and so on. On the other hand, the electoral system serves many other functions besides choice of a government; the party organization based on it serves as a market place and reconciler of interests, a ladder for the political careers of national and local officials, a forum of national discussion, and so on. It would be quite amiss to assume at once that the same functions were filled by elections in Athens, or in the medieval church, or even in other industrial societies today.

Argument about the merits of different electoral systems is generally based on assessments of their efficiency in relation to one or more of their many possible functions. The political literature of England in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries contains a rich store of such arguments; and this has been added to in the process of “decolonization,” since “free elections” were assumed to be a necessary step toward independence in most of Britain’s dependent territories. This is, therefore, a convenient testing ground for theories about the nature of political argument, and in particular about the relation of ideology to rationality on one flank and to self-interest on the other.

A. H. Birch (1964) has shown how contemporary debate about elections in Britain draws in arguments from various historical stages, a mixture which can be logically justified only if one assumes that elections in England serve many functions that are not necessarily compatible with one another. If one had to ground the defense of elections on a single maxim it would doubtless be that of the Puritan revolution: “There are no laws that in their strictness and vigour of justice any man is bound to that are not made by those whom he doth consent to.” Parallels for this maxim could be found in many other political cultures. The doctrine or ideology is one of great and continuing power: but it remains empty until expressed in terms of institutions and interests, and its simplicity is then obscured and complicated by arguments drawn from other streams of political doctrine.

There has been no general study of choice as an element in the legitimation of authority. Such a study would present great difficulties. It is safe to guess that where choice is an element in determining authority in simpler societies it is entangled with other factors such as seniority, lineage, and personal ascendancy. Isolating one factor would distort the situation. In complex societies elections appear in many different contexts, private and public, and electoral procedure often survives as a ritual although the element of choice is absent; so that it would be difficult, perhaps unwise, to take the forms of electoral procedure as a guide in unraveling the complexities of modern political structure.

It would be of value, nevertheless, if pilot studies could be made of the place of elections in one or two cases of simple and complex societies. Very little work has been done on the legitimation of authority in contemporary societies; it seems probable that the part played by elections is relatively small even in established democracies, if elections are considered separately as a single factor. An attempt to isolate this factor might therefore break down; but it could hardly fail to sharpen our perception of the problem, which is of central importance in political science and is now within the grasp of empirical inquiry.

W. J. M. Mackenzie

[See also Authority; Constitutionsand Constitutionalism; Democracy; Government; Legitimacy; Majorityrule; Representation.]


The bibliography for this article is combined with the bibliography of the article that follows.


Elections are institutionalized procedures for the choosing of officeholders by some or all of the recognized members of an organization. Whether the organization is a club, a company, a party, or a territorial polity, an electoral institution can be described in a series of dimensions: the scope and structure of the organizational unit; the tasks and the authority of the offices to be filled; the types and levels of membership in the organization and the qualifications for participation in the choice of officers; the criteria, if any, used in differentiating the numerical weight of the choice of each qualified member; the extent and character of the subdivisions instituted within the organizations for purposes of such choice; the procedures for the setting of the alternatives of choice; the procedures used in eliciting and registering choices among these alternatives; and the methods used in translating the aggregated choices of members into authoritative collective decisions on the attribution of the given offices.

A club might recognize as qualified electors only a few senior members and require these to vote by a show of hands or by acclamation. This practice would contrast on a number of dimensions with the elaborate procedures of some joint-stock companies: all shareholders have the right to participate, but the weight of their votes is a function of the number of shares they hold; their preferences are expressed under elaborate provisions of secrecy, and their votes are aggregated through strict rules of accountability. A systematic discussion of all such dimensions of variation, even for just the major types of organizations, would take us far afield. In this article the discussion will center on one distinct type of organization: the territorially defined units of the nation-state—the self-governing local community and the overarching unitary, or federal body politic.

The histories of the known political systems present a bewildering variety of electoral arrangements (Braunias 1932; Meyer 1901). Any attempt to account for these variations through the construction of a basic model of strategic options and structural restraints must start out from an analysis of the histories of changes in each of six dimensions of the local and the national electoral system.

(1) The qualifications for franchise: how does a subject of the territory acquire political citizenship rights?

(2) The weighting of influence: how many votes are formally attributed to each elector and on what grounds? what is done to ensure differentiation or equality in the actual influence of each vote?

(3) The standardization of the voting procedures and the protection of the freedom to choose:

what is done to ensure uniform and accountable practices of electoral administration, and what provisions are made to equalize the immediate cost of all alternatives for the elector?

(4) The territorial levels of choice: how is the territory divided for purposes of election, and how many levels of electoral aggregation are distinguished?

(5) The stages of electoral choice: how are the alternatives set for the electors? to what extent are the alternatives set in advance, and to what extent is the range still open for the electors?

(6) The procedures of calculation: how are the votes aggregated, and how are the aggregated distributions translated into authoritative collective decisions on territorial representation?

One man, one vote, one value

The Western developments toward equalitarian electoral democracy may conveniently be analyzed against an “ideal-type” model of five successive phases.

(1) An early, prerevolutionary phase was characterized by marked provincial and local variations in franchise practices but implicit or explicit recognition of membership in some corporate estate (the nobility, the clergy, the city corporations of merchants and artisans, or, in some cases, the freehold peasantry) as a condition of political citizenship (Hintze [1941] 1962; Lousse 1943; Palmer 1959).

(2) In the wake of the American and French revolutions, there was a period of increasing standardization of franchise rules; the strict regulation of access to the political arena under a rëgime censitaire was accompanied by formal equality of influence among the citizens allowed to vote under the given property or income criteria (Meyer 1901; Williamson 1960).

(3) In the first phase of mass mobilization the suffrage was greatly extended, but formal inequalities of influence persisted, under arrangements for multiple votes or for differential ratios of votes to representatives.

(4) In the next phase, manhood suffrage, all significant social and economic criteria of qualification for men over a given age were abolished. Although there were now no formal inequalities of voting rights within constituency electorates, marked differences in the weight of votes across the constituencies still existed (Zwager 1958).

(5) Finally, in the current phase, one of continued democratization, steps were taken toward the maximization of universal and equal citizenship rights by (a) extension of the suffrage to women, to younger age groups (down to 21 or even 18), and to short-term residents (reductions in “quarantine” periods) and (b) further equalization of voter-representative ratios throughout the national or federal territory.

Only three of the nation-states of the West passed through these five stages in anything like a regular sequence: England, Belgium, and Sweden. The step-by-step evolution characteristic of these countries contrasts violently with the abrupt and revolutionary changes in France (Bendix 1964; Rokkan l961).

In England (Seymour 1915) the process took more than one hundred years, from the Reform Act of 1832 to the abolition of multiple votes in 1948. In Sweden (Verney 1957) the system of estate representation was abolished in 1866, but the extreme inequalities of electoral influence were maintained until 1921. The Belgians (Gilissen 1958) passed from the phase of estate representation into a rëgime censitaire as soon as they had achieved independence in 1831 and went through an intriguing phase of multiple voting from 1893 to 1917: all men over 25 were enfranchised, but additional votes were granted not only on censitaire criteria but also in recognition of educational achievement (principe capacitaire) and of responsibility for the maintenance of a family.

By contrast, in France (Bastid 1948; Charnay 1965) the transition from the first to the fourth stage took a mere four years: the Law of January 1789 maintained a system of indirect elections within the recognized corporations of nobles, clergy, and the tiers ëtat; the constitution of 1791 stipulated a tax-paying criterion and introduced the concept of the citoyen actif; and the constitution of 1793 went straight to the stage of manhood suffrage, the only remaining qualification being a six-month minimum residence in the canton. This sudden thrust toward maximal mass democracy proved very short-lived: the Terror intervened, and for decades France was torn between traditionalist attempts to restrict the suffrage to a narrow stratum of owners and high officials and radical-plebisci-tarian pressures for universal and equal elections. The period from 1815 to 1848 was one of classic rëgime censitaire: the property qualifications limited the franchise to less than 100,000 out of 7 million adult males before 1830 and to roughly 240,000 in 1848. The Revolution of 1848 brought on the next sudden thrust toward maximal democracy: the first modern mass election took place on Easter day that year, and 84 per cent of the 9,360,000 electors went to the polling stations.

The electoral histories of the rest of Europe fall at various points between these two models. In northwest Europe the Dutch went through the same sequence as the British and the Swedes, while Denmark and Norway came closer to the French model. The Dutch passed from estate representation to regime censitaire in 1848 but did not go through any phase of plural voting before they opted for manhood suffrage during World War I (Geismann 1964). Denmark, the most absolutist of the Nordic polities, went through a brief period of estate representation after 1831 and then moved straight into a system of nationwide elections under a very extensive manhood suffrage in 1849: the result, again as in France, was a half century of constitutional struggle between an oligarchic elite and a coalition of urban radicals and the mobilizing peasantry. Under the impact of the struggle for independence, the dependent “colonial” territories of the north all proceeded rapidly to maximal suffrage. Norway gave the vote to close to half her adult males on establishing her own parliament in 1814 and proceeded to full manhood suffrage during the conflict over union with Sweden in the 1890s. Finland stuck to the inherited Swedish system of four estates until 1906 and then all of a sudden passed from the first to the fifth phase of the model: not only all men but also all women were given the vote, and the process of mass mobilization had gone so far under the restrictive estate system that the turnout at the first election under universal suffrage reached the record height of 70.7 per cent. Developments in the third of the Nordic “colonies” were less spectacular: Iceland saw the re-establishment of its parliament in 1874 and then passed through two successive phases of régime censitaire before the stage of near-universal suffrage for men and women was reached in 1915 (as in most other countries of the north, paupers receiving public assistance were kept out in the first round; the Icelanders did not admit them until 1934).

The German territories were torn among several competing models of the representative polity: the traditional notions of election through established estates; the altliberale ideology of unified national representation under a property or income suffrage; the Napoleonic ideas of plebiscitarian mass democracy; and the Roman Catholic models of functional representation within the corporate state, the Ständestaat. This electoral schizophrenia found a number of intriguing expressions. In Prussia and the Bismarckian Reich, two sharply contrasted systems of elections coexisted for half a century. In Prussia the “lower orders” had been given the right to vote in the wake of the Revolution of 1848, but the weight of their votes was infinitesimal in the three-class system introduced to protect the interests of the landowners and the officials. By contrast, the Reichstag was elected on strict criteria of equal suffrage for all men: this principle had been laid down, after much debate, by the German National Assembly in Frankfurt in 1848 but was not enforced until 1867, when Bismarck saw the importance of general elections as a source of legitimacy for the new Reich. The Hapsburg empire went through a much longer and more tortuous process of democratization: first, estate representation; from 1861, corporate-interest representation under a system of four curiae; in 1896, an extraordinary attempt to stave off equalitarian democracy, by adding a fifth curia, for the citizens so far without representation; and finally, in 1907, a unified system of national representation and enforcement of “one man, one vote, one value.”

By the end of World War I the great majority of European and European-settled polities had opted for manhood suffrage, many of them even for universal suffrage for women as well. Suffrage for women (Kraditor 1965) came first in the settler nations (Wyoming, 1890, all of the United States, 1920; New Zealand, 1893; South Australia, 1895) and in Scandinavia (Finland, 1906; Norway, 1910 to 1913; Denmark, 1915; Sweden, 1918 to 1921). The British proceeded by steps: restricted suffrage for women in 1918; full suffrage, on a par with men, in 1928. The “Roman” countries took longer to recognize the rights of women: France, Belgium, and Italy waited until the end of World War II before they admitted all women to political citizenship, and Switzerland has still, after 120 years of smoothly functioning manhood democracy, to reach agreement on the enfranchisement of her women.

With the victory over the Axis powers in World War II and the subsequent dismantling of colonial empires, the principle of “one man, one vote” gained ground throughout the world, even in countries at the lowest level of literacy and without a trace of the traditions of pluralist competition, which had been essential for the growth of effective party oppositions in the West. In an increasing number of newly independent states the enforcement of equal and universal rights of political citizenship was no longer seen as a means for the channeling of legitimate claims against the power holders but was regarded simply as an element in a strategy of national unification and the control of dissidence. Really serious struggles over the old cry of “one man, one vote, one value” only occurred in the ethnically most divided polities, e.g., South Africa, Rhodesia, and the United States.

Resistance to electoral equalitarianism has generally tended to be stronger at the level of local government than at the national or federal level. Payment of local property taxes remained in many cases a criterion of local franchise long after the abolition of régime censitaire at the national level. Residence requirements, too, were retained much longer for local than for national elections. In fact, in recent years the increased flow of labor from the backward to the economically advanced countries is bringing about extensive disfranchisement even at the national level. In the earlier phase the migrant workers within the one national territory were kept locally disfranchised; today vast numbers of immigrants are denied political rights in their host countries because of the high barriers against citizenship. “One man, one vote, one value” may be upheld as a principle within a population of settled territorial citizens, but it breaks down at the cross-national level.

Standardization of electoral practices

The extension of the franchise to the economically and culturally dependent strata of each national society increased the pressures for a standardization of electoral practices. Before elections could be established as essential instruments of legitimation, local variations in the arrangements for the elicitation and recording of choices had to be minimized. The electoral returns constituted claims to legitimate representation that had to be established through procedures acceptable to all, or at least to the dominant, competitors for office and power. The history of the democratization of the suffrage was paralleled in country after country by a history of increasing standardization of administrative procedures in all phases of the electoral process: the establishment of registers; the determination of voting rights; the maintenance of order at the polling stations; the casting of the vote; the recording of the act in the register; the counting of choices; the calculation of outcomes.

Of all the issues facing the national administrations in the early phases of suffrage extension, one was of particular importance for the functioning of the electoral system: the measures taken to insure the independence of the individual electoral decision (Rokkan 1961).

The defenders of the estate traditions and the régime censitaire had argued that economically and culturally dependent subjects could not be expected to form independent political judgments and therefore the vote should be given only to citizens likely to withstand social or economic pressures and able to take public responsibility for their choices on election day.

Liberal advocates of an extended suffrage, such as John Stuart Mill, were placed in a dilemma. They knew that the new voters could easily be swayed by their social superiors or their economic masters, yet they were convinced that the vote ought to be open, that each voter ought to be prepared to defend his decision in his day-to-day environments. This moralist argument for the old tradition of open voting soon had to yield to another imperative: the safeguarding of the integra-tive and legitimizing functions of the electoral ritual. To generate legitimacy, elections had to be dignified and without any tinge of violence. The maintenance of the system of open voting under the conditions of mass elections could lead only to alienation, corruption, and disrespect for the institutions of the nation.

The result was a widespread movement to ensure the secrecy of the act of voting. To qualify as “democratic,” elections had to be not only universal and equal but also secret. The French were the first to introduce this principle. The electoral law establishing the States General in 1789 retained open oral voting at the level of the general electorate but called for secret ballots in the colleges of delegates. The electoral law establishing the first legislative assembly in 1791 introduced secrecy at all levels of the electorate, but very little was done to ensure regular enforcement. There was a great deal of opposition to the principle; the Jacobins, in particular, wanted open voting to control dissi-dence. The constitution of 1793 left it to the voters themselves to decide whether to vote openly or in secret. Subsequent laws reintroduced the principle of secrecy for all voters, but electoral administration remained at a low level of standardization throughout the nineteenth century. The isoloir and the standard envelope for the ballot were introduced by law in 1913, but even these highly detailed provisions left leeway for a variety of abuses and manipulations, particularly in the south, in Corsica, and in the overseas départements (Charnay 1965).

The extension of the suffrage to vast numbers of illiterates made it impossible to stick to a strict rule of secrecy. In the economically and culturally backward areas of the national hinterland particularly, it proved easy to control the votes of the lower classes even under strict rules of secrecy. The secret ballot expressed an essential feature of literate urban society: it introduced an element of anonymity, specificity, and abstraction in the system of political interchange.

Significantly, the countries that retained the old tradition of open and oral voting longest were all heavily dominated by landed interests: Denmark did not abolish it until 1901; Iceland, until 1906; Prussia, until the collapse of the Reich in 1918; and Hungary retained it even into the 1930s. By contrast, Belgium, Switzerland, and Sweden had opted for secrecy even under the régime censitaire, and the English had only waited five years after the Reform Act of 1867 to introduce the Ballot Act, which ensured the freedom of the voters from intimidation and bribery. In the settler nations overseas, the principle of secrecy was recognized quite early but there were marked local variations in enforcement. One of the Australian states developed an effective procedure of secret voting as early as 1856, and this innovation, the “Australian ballot,” (Wigmore 1889) spread very rapidly through the United States during the 1880s and 1890s. The open recognition of legitimate partisanship made secrecy less important in the United States than in Europe. Most states allow primary elections within each party, and participation in these cannot easily be hidden from the public.

In all these countries the underlying purpose of the introduction of the ballot system was to take the act of voting out of the regular give and take of day-to-day life and enhance its dignity and ritual significance by isolating it from the sordid pressures and temptations of an unequal and divided society. Most histories of electoral arrangements emphasize the importance of secrecy, as a device to protect the economically dependent from the sanctions of their superiors. This was the essence of the Chartists’ early demands in England, and it has traditionally been a basic concern of working-class movements. What has often been overlooked is that the provisions for secrecy could as easily cut the voter off from his peers as from his superiors. In fact, the secrecy provisions fulfill two distinct functions: first, they make it possible for the voter to keep his decision private and avoid sanctions from those he does not want to know; second, they make it impossible for the voter to prove how he voted to those he does want to know. The very rigorous rules set up in country after country for the invalidation of all irregularly marked ballots was directed to this second point. They were devised to ensure that the citizen could no longer treat his vote as a commodity for sale. He might well be bribed, but the price per vote clearly would decrease as soon as it proved impossible to check whether it was actually delivered. The salient point here is that by ensuring the complete anonymity of the ballots it became possible not only to reduce bribery of the economically dependent by their superiors but also to reduce the pressures toward conformity and solidarity within the working class.

With the secret ballot, a personal choice was placed before the worker that made him, at least temporarily, independent of his immediate environment: was he primarily a worker or primarily a citizen of the broader local or national community? Secret voting made it possible for the inarticulate rank and file to escape the pressures of their organizations, and at the same time it put the onus of political visibility on the activists within the working-class movement. The established national “system” opened up channels for the expression of secret loyalties, while forcing “deviants” to declare themselves openly. Some socialist parties tried to turn the tables by establishing intimate organizational ties with the trade unions and imposing political levies on their members, irrespective of their actual preferences. The controversy over “contracting in” versus “contracting out” in the British labor movement can be interpreted as the counterpart of the controversy over open versus secret voting in the total system. The Labour party wanted to put the onus of visibility on its own “deviants,” the trade union members who did not want to vote for the party (contracting out), while the Conservatives and Liberals wanted the inarticulate masses to stay out of political commitments and to put the onus of visibility on the socialist militants (contracting in).

The introduction of mass elections in the developing countries of Africa and Asia during the final phases of decolonization raised a number of technical issues (MacKenzie & Robinson 1965; Maquet 1959; Smith 1960). In some British territories a system of separate ballot boxes for each candidate or party was introduced. These were marked by distinguishing symbols (a lion, an elephant, etc.) and the illiterate voters were asked to drop their ballot paper into the box of their choice. There were elaborate rules for the stamping of official identification marks on the ballot papers and for the screening of the ballot boxes from the eyes of the officials, but this procedure still left a wide margin for interference with the choice of individual voters. In other British colonies with high rates of illiteracy the voters had to mark off on the ballot the candidates of their choice. This often made it essential to allow election officials to accept “whispering votes” from voters who could not read the names on the ballot. The French colonies and their successor states adopted the system of separate party ballots and the isoloir for the placing of the chosen list in the official envelope. This simplified procedures (although it wasted a lot of paper) but still left a great deal of leeway for the exertion of social pressure. Even if the village chieftains or the political agents could not see what the voter did inside the isoloir, they could either observe him when he chose his party ballot from the separate piles placed at the polling station or, what was more common, prevail upon him to show them afterward the ballots he had not used, as proof that he had voted as instructed. There was nothing new about this, of course. The experiences in the developing countries simply confirmed what had been known about voting in the backward rural areas of Europe for decades. Any attempt to uphold strict rules of secrecy in societies at low levels of economic differentiation is bound to run into difficulties. Relationships are too diffuse and the possibilities of observation too many to allow individuals to escape from control through the isolation of particular acts from their daily contexts.

From votes to seats

The emergence of mass electorates produced a great literature of political engineering, not just on the organization of party work and the waging of campaigns but also on the territorial structuring of constituencies and on the strategic pros and cons of alternative procedures of translating the registered distributions of votes into legitimate decisions on representation. Of the extraordinary tangle of issues debated in this literature, only two interconnected issues will be discussed here: the delimitation of units of aggregation, and the procedures for the allocation of seats within each unit. Basically, the bitter debates over the two issues reflect fears and resentments generated through changes in the equilibrium of political power under the impact of mass democracy: the influx of new voters altered the character of the system and a great variety of stratagems were tried out to bring it back into equilibrium.

Varieties of majority systems . The early systems of electoral representation all rested on some kind of majority principle. The will of a part of the electorate was taken to express the will of the whole, and all the participants were taken to be bound in law and conscience by the decision reached through this procedure.

Three distinct varieties of majoritarian decision-making procedure established themselves during the early phases of electoral development. The first of these stipulated one round of election, with decisions by simple plurality. The second and the third both stipulated several rounds and required absolute majorities in the first round. They differed, however, in their requirements for the final and decisive round. The second allowed an open field of candidacies and simple plurality; the third restricted the competition to the two foremost candidates and retained the absolute-majority requirement to the very end.

The first of the three procedures had been established in England since the Middle Ages and had been used to ensure the election of “two knights from every shire and two burgesses from every borough” to the House of Commons. It also became the standard method in the United States and soon spread to the other English-settled nations overseas. The method was originally used in two-member constituencies, but it met with general acceptance even when applied in single-member units.

The method of repeated ballots had a long tradition in the Roman Catholic church (Moulin 1953) and was formally instituted in the French ordonnance calling for elections to the States General in 1789. This stipulated three successive ballots—the first two open, the final one restricted to just twice as many candidates as there were seats left to fill. Three-ballot systems of this type prevailed throughout the régime censitaire. This method was clearly best suited to elections restricted to the economically independent classes, with leisure enough to travel to electoral sessions and spend the day or more required to get through all the balloting. The Revolution of 1848 swept away this system and introduced single-ballot mass elections. The old habit of repeated ballots persisted, however. Only four years after the revolution, Napoleon III devised a system of two-ballot elections suited to the new situation of manhood suffrage. He broke with the old tradition on a point of fundamental importance: he allowed an open field of candidacies even at the second ballot and required simple plurality only. This was an astute strategic move; in the half-free elections of the Empire, it allowed the officials maximal freedom of maneuver against the opposition. Interestingly, there was no return to the principle of second-ballot absolute majority in the Third, Fourth, or Fifth Republic: none of the parties or groupements wanted to be faced with the cruel yes-or-no alternatives of the two-way fight.

Other polities on the European continent stuck to the old rule of absolute majority and restricted last-ballot candidacies. This was the system upheld in the German Reich down to its defeat in 1918; it was, also, used in Switzerland until 1900 and in Austria, Italy, and the Netherlands until the end of World War I.

These majoritarian electoral methods came under heavy attacks in the later phases of democratization. The extension of the suffrage made possible the organization of strong lower-class parties but the electoral systems, inherited from the ages of estate representation and régime censitaire, set high barriers against the entry of such parties into national politics. The German rule of absolute majority set the highest barrier. A lower-class party had to reach the 50 per cent mark or go without representation. The French and the Anglo-American systems also set high barriers against rising movements of the hitherto disfranchised, but the initial levels were not frozen at 50 per cent; the height of the barriers varied with the strategies of established, censitaire, parties. The essential difference between the French and the Anglo-American systems was that the one made for much greater local variations in such counterstrategies than the other: the first-ballot results offered a basis for bargaining among the established parties, and the coalition strategies would of necessity vary from constituency to constituency. The height of the barrier against new entrants depended essentially on the willingness of the established parties to enter into alliances. This was not always exclusively a matter of immediate payoffs but of trust and the openness of communication channels.

Origins of proportional representation . Karl Braunias (1932) distinguished two phases in the spread of proportional representation: the “minority protection” phase, before World War I; and the “antisocialist” phase, in the years immediately after the armistice. It was no accident that the earliest moves toward proportional representation (PR) came in the most ethnically heterogeneous European countries: Denmark in 1855; the Swiss cantons in 1891; Belgium in 1899; Moravia in 1905; Finland in 1906. In linguistically and religiously divided societies majority elections could clearly threaten the continued existence of the political system. The introduction of some element of minority representation came to be seen as an essential step in a strategy of territorial consolidation.

As the pressures mounted for extensions of the suffrage, demands for proportionality were also heard in the culturally more homogeneous nation-states. In most cases the victory of the new principle of representation came about through a convergence of pressures from below and from above. The rising working class wanted to lower the thresholds of representation in order to gain access to the legislatures, and the most threatened of the old established parties demanded PR to protect their position against the new waves of mobilized voters created by universal suffrage. In Belgium the introduction of graduated manhood suffrage in 1893 brought about an increasing polarization between the Labor party and the Catholics and threatened the continued existence of the Liberals. The introduction of PR restored some equilibrium to the system (Gilissen 1958).

The history of the struggles over electoral procedures in Sweden and Norway tells us a great deal about the consequences of the lowering of one threshold for the bargaining over the level of the next. In Sweden, Liberals and Social Democrats fought a long fight for universal and equal suffrage and at first also advocated PR, to ensure easier access to the legislature. The remarkable success of their mobilization efforts made them change their strategy, however, and from 1904 onward they advocated majority elections in single-member constituencies (Verney 1957). This aroused fears among the farmers and the urban conservatives, who, to protect their own interests, made the introduction of PR a condition for acceptance of manhood suffrage. Accordingly, the two barriers fell together. It became easier to enter the electorate and easier to gain representation. In Norway (Rokkan & Hjellum 1966) there was a longer lag between waves of mobilization. The franchise was much wider from the outset, and the first wave of peasant mobilization brought down the old régime as early as 1884. As a result, the suffrage had been extended well before the final mobilization of the rural proletariat and the industrial workers, under the impact of rapid economic change. The victorious radical-agrarian “left” felt no need to lower the threshold of representation and, in fact, helped to raise it through the introduction of a two-ballot system of the French type in 1906. There is little doubt that this contributed greatly to the radicalization and alienation of the Norwegian Labor party, which in 1915 gained 32 per cent of all the votes cast but which was given barely 15 per cent of the seats. The “left” did not agree to lower the threshold until 1921; the decisive motive was clearly not just a sense of equalitarian justice but the fear of rapid decline, with further Labor advances across the majority threshold.

In all these cases the high threshold might have been maintained if the parties of the property-owning classes had been able to make common cause against the rising working-class movements. But the inheritance of hostility and distrust was too strong. The Belgian Liberals could not face the possibility of a merger with the Catholics, and the cleavages between the rural and the urban interests went too deep in the Nordic countries to make it possible to build up any joint antisocialist front. By contrast, the higher level of industrialization and the progressive merger of rural and urban interests in Britain made it possible to withstand the demand for a change in the system of representation: the Labour party was seriously underrepresented only during a brief initial period, and the Conservatives were able to establish broad enough alliances in the counties and the suburbs to keep their votes well above the critical point.

Threshold strategies under PR. PR systems differ markedly in their threshold levels, however, and the struggles over these details of electoral engineering tell us a great deal about the dynamics of multiparty systems.

The variant most frequently introduced in continental Europe was the one invented by the Belgian professor Victor d’Hondt (1878; 1882): the method of the “largest average.” This method favors the largest party and, in fact, lowers the threshold very little in constituencies electing few members and choosing among few competing party lists. If the total number of votes cast is designated as V, the total number of mandates as M, and the total number of parties as P, the threshold formula for the d’Hondt procedure will read

This means that the smallest number of votes (T) required for representation will be a function not only of the size of the constituency and its share of seats but also of the number of parties. A fragmented party system lowers the threshold but, by implication, also increases the overrepresenta-tion of the largest of the parties (particularly if P > M, since the votes for a number of the small parties must of necessity go unrepresented).

Thus, the debates and bargains over electoral arrangements in a great number of PR countries have centered on the questions, Should there be some gentle overrepresentation of the largest party? and Should the threshold for the first seat be set high enough to discourage new parties and splinter movements? These concerns have been particularly prominent in the Scandinavian countries: the typical constellation there has been one party, Labor, in the range just below the 50 per cent mark; three or four parties, all nonsocialist, in the 5–20 per cent range; and one or two very small parties, with only minimal chances of representation. In such constellations the d’Hondt procedure would give the largest party more seats than its votes justified. In fact it often gave the Labor parties clear majorities in parliament without majorities among the voters. This overrepresentation was essentially achieved at the expense of the very smallest of the parties, such as the Communist, but often hurt the efforts of the one-seat parties to gain additional representation. A variety of remedies were suggested. The Danes retained the high d’Hondt threshold but ensured greater proportionality among the already represented parties through a two-level procedure: any underrepresentation produced at the constituency level was corrected through the allocation of additional seats at the regional level. In Sweden and in Norway the non-socialist parties opted for another strategy: they found it impossible to join forces under one single list, but they were anxious to increase their representation through provisions for electoral cartels. In Sweden such cartels were allowed after 1921 and cost the Social Democrats a substantial number of seats. The system placed the Agrarians in a very difficult position. To avoid underrepresentation, they were tempted to join in cartels with the other nonsocialist parties; but to advance the interests of the farmers they found it best to support the Social Democratic government. In the end the provisions for cartels were abolished and the Sainte-Lague method (1910) of calculation was introduced.

By a curious coincidence this alternative was adopted in all the three Scandinavian countries during 1952 and 1953. The Norwegian Labor party had gained a majority in parliament in 1945 and by 1947 had abolished the cartels. As a result, the party received 45.7 per cent of the votes but 56.7 per cent of the seats in the 1949 election. This caused a great deal of recrimination, and the party finally accepted the new method of allocation in 1952. A similar lowering of threshold was also brought about in Denmark, through provisions in the constitution of 1953.

The Sainte-Laguë method was once described as a “miracle formula” by the leader of the Swedish Agrarian party. In the typical Scandinavian situation it had a threefold effect: it strengthened the middle-sized nonsocialist parties by reducing the overrepresentation of the Social Democrats; it was nevertheless of strategic advantage to the governing parties because it reduced the pay-offs of mergers within the opposition; and finally, it helped all the established parties by discouraging splinters and new parties. How could all this be achieved in one formula? To explain this, we have to go into some technicalities of electoral mathematics (Janson 1961; Rokkan & Hjellum 1966).

Two procedures were frequently suggested as alternatives to d’Hondt in the discussions in the Scandinavian countries: the method of the “greatest remainder” and the Sainte-Lague system of successive division by odd integers.

The method of the “greatest remainder” lowers the threshold of representation to a minimum: the threshold formula is T = V/(MP). This is a direct invitation to party fragmentation, since the threshold decreases rapidly with increases in the number of parties. The simple Sainte-Laguë formula does not go quite that far. The threshold formula is (V 1)/(2M + P 2). Its crucial contribution is the progressive increase in the cost of new seats. The greater the number of seats already won by a party in a given constituency, the more votes it will take to add yet another. The d’Hondt formula makes no distinction between first and later seats. The total votes cast for each party are divided successively by 1, 2, 3, …. The Sainte-Lague method is to divide by 1, 3, 5, …. Thus, if the first seat costs each party 1,000 votes, the second seat will cost the party (1,000 · 3)/2 = 1,500 votes and the third seat (1,000 · 5)/3 = 1,667 votes, and so on. This is definitely the optimal formula for small parties: it is easy to gain representation but hard to reach a majority in parliament. At the same time, it discourages mergers and cartels. Two parties polling just beyond the threshold for their first seats will, in fact, lose out if they merge.

This procedure appealed both to the nonsocialist parties, typically at the one-seat level in most constituencies, and to the governing Social Democrats. The nonsocialists were anxious to reduce the “government bonus” built into the d’Hondt procedure, and the Social Democrats wanted to make sure that their opponents did not find it profitable to merge into one broad competitive party.

But this was not all. The electoral strategists went even further to ensure the perpetuation of the established party constellations. They wanted lower thresholds, but they wanted them set just below the typical voting levels of the smallest of the established parties. If the threshold were to be set much lower, it would increase the chances of even smaller, “antisystem” parties and encourage splinter movements. The solution proved very simple: the first divisor was set, not at 1, but at 1.4. In the example already used, this would mean that the first seat would cost 1,400 votes as against 1,500 for the second and 1,667 for the third. It cost more to gain entry, but once a party was in, the steps toward further representation were no longer so steep.

This formula fitted the established power constellations as closely as any procedure at this level of simplicity could ever be expected to. It had all the appearance of a universal rule, but in fact it was essentially designed to stabilize the party system at the point of equilibrium reached by the early 1950s.

Developments in the late 1950s and the early 1960s showed that even this formula would not protect the system against change. The Social Democrats began to regret that they had given up so much of their “government bonus.” Their parliamentary majorities had become very small and highly vulnerable, and they were reluctant to contemplate long-term alliances with one of the opposition parties. In Sweden the Royal Commission on Constitutional Reform proposed in 1963 a two-tier system of representation. They wanted to use the Sainte-Lague procedure at the level of the old constituencies and the d’Hondt procedure to elect regional members at large. This was a deliberate attempt to bring back into a system some measure of overrepresentation for the largest party. The motive was explicitly stated to be the need for some stabilization of the majority basis for the cabinet. This proposal is still under debate, and there is no basis for any final prediction of the outcome of the complex bargaining currently under way. Similar discussions got under way in Norway in the wake of the defeat of the Labor party in the election of 1961. Some Labor strategists have guardedly suggested a return to d’Hondt or even a switch to simple majority elections of the British type, while their rivals in the nonsocialist camp have put forth a diametrically opposed solution: the lowering of the Sainte-Lague threshold to 1.3 or even 1.2. Paradoxically, the old Labor party, once the champion of PR, now wants to increase the threshold of representation, while their opponents, once the defenders of the old majority threshold, now advocate a radical lowering. Their aim is clearly to encourage the Left Socialist splinters from Labor, but this gain can be bought only at the cost of all future mergers of the nonsocialist parties (Rokkan & Hjellum 1966).

PR without party lists . By 1920 PR systems of one sort or another had won out throughout Europe. Even the French gave up their two-ballot, single-member procedure from 1917 to 1927 and introduced a curious mixture of d’Hondt proportionality and majoritarianism. These systems all required the voter to elect several representatives at the same time and to choose among a number of lists of candidates. These lists were normally set up by competing political parties. The voters might have some influence on the fate of individual candidates on such lists, but it was nearly impossible to elect anyone not appearing on the initial lists. The Continental PR was a product of party bargaining. The parties wanted to survive and saw that they rated the best chances under a system that would allow them not only to control nominations but also to gain representation even when in minority.

In the Anglo-Saxon countries this type of PR never caught on. There were strong party organizations, but there was also a strong tradition of direct territorial representation through individual representatives. The early English advocates of proportionality were profoundly indifferent to the survival of organized parties; they wanted to equalize the influence of individual voters. The great innovation of these electoral reformers was the introduction of a procedure for the aggregation of individual rank-order choices. The election was not to be decided through the counting of so many choices for X and so many for Y but through the comparison of schedules of preference. The possibilities of such aggregations of rank orders had been analyzed with great ingenuity by Charles de Borda and the Marquis de Condorcet in the eighteenth century (Black 1958; Ross 1955), but these theoretical discussions had been confined to decision making in committees and assemblies. The French method of repeated ballots, in fact, developed out of decision-making situations in assemblies and entailed a rank ordering of preferences; the voters for the candidates at the bottom had to decide on their next-order preferences. The Australian system of the “alternative vote” is another approximation; the voter indicates his second and third choices, as well as his first, and knows that these lower preferences will be brought into the count if his first preference should not receive enough support. These methods, however, aim at the maximizing of support behind each candidate. First preferences count to the end, even when there are many more than needed to elect the given candidate. The great strength of the movement for the “single transferable vote” lay precisely in the insistence on the effective use of all the preference schedules, not only the ones given to the candidates with the smallest followings but also of those “wasted” through overconcentration on a single candidate.

This required the setting of a quota—the smallest number of preferences required for election. The inventors of the system, a Dane, Andrae (1855), and an Englishman, Hare (1857), set it at Votes % Seats, but this was quickly shown to be too high. H. R. Droop (1868) had no difficulty in demonstrating that the correct quota would be [Votes ÷ (Seats + 1)] + 1. This would be just enough to beat competitors for the last of the seats.

Once the quota had been set, the procedure was in itself straightforward, if time consuming. The wasted first preferences at the top of the poll were treated just like the wasted ones at the bottom—the lower preferences were entered when the first ones could no longer help. There was one difference. At the bottom all the first preferences were wasted and had to be examined for lower preferences, while at the top it was impossible to say which ones were wasted—which ones were in the quota and which ones were beyond. The solution was to work out proportional shares of lower preferences. If an elected candidate had received 10,000 first preferences but needed only 9,000, the below-quota candidates would get (10,000 – 9,000) ÷ 10,000 = 110 of the second preferences given each of them by those 10,000 voters (Lake-man & Lambert 1955).

The Andrae variant of this system was used in the election of some of the members of the Danish Rigsraad from 1855 to 1866 and in the electoral colleges for the Upper House from 1866 to 1915, but the method has otherwise found acceptance only in Britain and the British-settled areas: Tasmania since 1907, the two Irelands since 1920 (quickly abolished in Northern Ireland), Malta since 1921, New South Wales since 1932, and the Australian Senate since 1949. The “single transferable vote” was ardently advocated by British Liberals but never gained much of a foothold in England. Most Conservatives were against it, and the Labour party found it less and less interesting as they grew in strength. There was a strong move toward proportionalism in 1931. Labour promoted an “alternative-vote” bill and was supported by the Liberals in the House of Commons, but the government fell and the law was never enacted (Butler 1953).

On the European continent there has always been a great deal of resistance to the dominance of the organized parties in the determination of the lists of candidates, and a variety of devices has been invented to ensure some measure of voter influence on the fate of individual candidates. Denmark was the only country on the Continent to go as far as to opt for PR without party lists. Under the current system they provide three levels of electoral aggregation. At the level of the nomination district the voters choose among individual candidates; at the level of the constituency their votes are aggregated by party to determine the allocation of direct seats; while at the level of the region there is a further round of aggregation to decide the attribution of additional seats designed to maximize proportionality (Pedersen 1966). Another multilevel solution has been devised in the German Federal Republic. There the voters are allowed two votes, one for a simple plurality election in single-member constituencies, the other for a PR election among party lists. A high degree of candidate orientation can also be achieved in a single-level PR system. The Finnish system provides the most interesting example. The parties do not present multicandidate lists or indicate a preferred order among them but submit a number of separate candidacies. The voters then choose individual candidates only, but the votes are aggregated by party within each constituency to determine the allocation of seats.

Single-member versus multimember constituencies . On the Continent the conflict between the majority principle and the proportionality principle was, at the same time, a conflict over conceptions of the territoriality of elections. Majority elections were typically tied to single-member constituencies and posited close interaction between the elected representative and the entire local electorate. Proportional elections were held in larger constituencies and posited interaction between organized parties and functionally defined core sectors of the population. The Single Transferable Vote made little sense in single-member constituencies but offered an alternative to party dominance in multi-member units. The voter was free to establish his own list of candidates and did not have to abide by any party nominations. Thomas Hare (1857) and John Stuart Mill went so far as to propose that all of Britain be turned into one single constituency, but this clearly would make for enormously laborious computations of transfers. The Government of Ireland Act of 1920 stipulated constituencies of three to eight members each, and most advocates of the Hare system now give five seats as the ideal (O’Leary 1961; Ross 1959).

PR-list systems have allowed wide variations in the size of constituencies. Several countries have, in fact, made the entire national territory one constituency. This was the system of the Weimar Republic, and it is still the system in use in the Netherlands; it has also been used in Israel since 1949. This does not necessarily mean that the same set of candidates is presented throughout the national territory. There may be primary constituencies for the presentation of local party lists, but the fate of these lists is not determined within that constituency alone but by the success of the party in the total national territory. The electoral arrangements in Denmark and in the German Federal Republic are of this type. Some of the seats are allocated directly by constituency (in Denmark by the Sainte-Laguë formula, in Germany by plurality); others are allocated on the basis of the nationwide result, to ensure proportionality.

Such large constituencies obviously favor the formation of splinter parties: direct PR thresholds are functions of both the number of seats and the number of parties. To guard against party fragmentation, many systems have introduced higher barriers, either on the basis of the percentage share of the total national vote or on the basis of the number of direct seats already won. Danish law requires as a condition for the allocation of “pro-portionalized seats” that the party has (a) gained one direct seat or (b) received 2 per cent or more of the vote across the nation or (c) received in two of the three regions a total number of votes higher than the average regional cost of direct seats. The German threshold is 5 per cent of the federal vote or three direct seats.

Cross-constituency equality . The demand for equality of representation was at first met at the constituency level only. “One man, one vote, one value” was enforced within the local unit of aggregation but not throughout the national territory. There were everywhere highly vocal movements for the equalization of electoral districts, but these demands met with greater resistance than the claims for equality of influence within each unit. Under the inherited systems of estate representation, elections were taken to express the will, not of individual citizens, but of the corporate units of the nation. A shire or borough might have declined in population or in number of enfranchised citizens, but it still constituted a unit of government worthy of representation on a par with larger units. Even after the Reform Act of 1832 in England, differences between the lowest and the highest numbers of constituents per representative were of the order of 1 to 60. The radical redistribution carried out in 1885 brought the ratio down to 1 to 7, but further progress was slow. Even after the reorganization of 1948 there are still constituencies with electorates only one-third the size of the largest in the country.

Great variations in the ratios of representatives to electorates was the rule throughout Europe and the West until well into the twentieth century. On the European continent the early systems of representation generally gave great advantages to the cities; the centers of commerce and industry were still small in population but had major stakes in the building of the nations. The continuing growth of the national economies brought about changes in this urban-rural balance. As the populations of the cities grew and the franchise was widened, the rural areas gradually gained in their electorate-representative ratios and became heavily overrep-resented. This inequality of representation proved highly resistant to protest movements. The more conservative voters in the cities had found important allies in the countryside and preferred to stay underrepresented at home as long as their allies could help them in their fight against urban radicals (Cotteret et al. 1960; David & Eisenberg 1961–1962; De Grazia 1963).

In some countries this urban-rural conflict was reinforced through conflicts between the central districts and the peripheries. The constituencies farthest away from the capital and the economically most advanced areas of the nation claimed a right to numerical overrepresentation to offset the difficulties of communication with the decision makers and the officials at the center. In Denmark the constitution of 1953 even goes so far as to stipulate that constituencies be allotted seats based not only on their population but also on the size of their territories. A representative speaks not just for a given number of citizens but also for a unit of physical territory. Even in the most “proportional-ized” of democracies, the electoral arrangements still reflect tensions between three conceptions of representation: the numerical, the functional, and the territorial.

Priorities for comparative research

The development in so many countries of standardized arrangements for the conduct of elections at several levels of the polity sets a wide variety of challenging tasks for comparative social research. The comparative studies carried out thus far leave greatgaps in our knowledge. It is, in fact, much easier to pinpoint lacunae and lost opportunities than to describe positive achievements.

Given the crucial importance of the organization of legitimate elections in the development of the mass democracies of the twentieth century, it is indeed astounding to discover how little serious effort has been invested in the comparative study of the wealth of information available. There is no dearth of literature, but exceedingly little of it stands up to scrutiny in the light of current standards of social science methodology. The great bulk of the items bear on technicalities and controversies within a single national or regional tradition, and the few wider-ranging ones tend to take the form of vehement polemics against competing systems, even when couched in the terms of academic discourse.

The polemical writers tend to fall into two categories : the violent majoritarians or the impassioned single-vote proportionalists. It is hard to trace any distinctive school of list-system proportionalists. The party lists have certainly had their defenders, but these have tended to be pragmatic and contextual in their argumentation and have not been inclined to advertise their solutions as panaceas for all countries of the world.

The majoritarians have been particularly articulate in the three European countries with the un-happiest records of mass politics: Germany, Italy, and France. In all these deeply divided countries there has been widespread nostalgia for the simplicity of the Anglo-Saxon system of plurality elections. A great number of publicists had hoped for the development of unified national political cultures that would foster the kind of trust in territorial representatives they could observe in England and had somehow come to the conclusion that this could be brought about through straightforward electoral engineering.

In its academic guise this argument was developed into a scheme of purportedly universal propositions about the consequences of electoral systems for the health of the body politic (Hermens 1941; 1951). This proved a very difficult enterprise. A great deal of information for a wide range of countries was processed, but the results were meager. The universal propositions gave way to complex statements about concrete sequences of change, and a bewildering multiplicity of conditioning variables had to be brought into the analysis. It turned out to be simply impossible to formulate any single-variable statements about the political consequences of plurality as opposed to those of PR. A variety of contextual conditions had to be brought into the analysis: the character of the national cleavage system; the cultural conditions for the legitimation of representatives; the burdens of government and the leeway for legislative versus executive action (Duverger 1950; 1951; Epstein 1964; Grumm 1958).

This did not reduce appreciably the ardor of the majoritarians. They stuck to their guns in discussing the three major countries of the western European continent, but they admitted that PR might not hurt the functioning of democracy in the smaller nations (Unkelbach 1956). A good case could be made for plurality elections in Germany, within a reasoned analysis of the strategic options for the one country (Sternberger 1964; Scheuch & Wildenmann 1965), but the academic enterprise broke down as soon as attempts were made to argue this move for all full-suffrage democracies, whatever their structure and whatever their experiences in consensus building.

In Anglo-Saxon circles the polemics against plurality elections have not been quite as vehement. Advocates of PR could not blame the inherited electoral system for major national disasters, such as Fascism in Italy, National Socialism in Germany, the 1940 debacle in France. The single-vote proportionalists (Lakeman & Lambert 1955; Ross 1955) do have something in common with the majoritarians. They tend to express the same naive belief in the possibilities of electoral engineering, and they show little awareness of the cultural and the organizational conditions for the acceptance of different systems of representation.

The majoritarian-proportionalist polemic has recently been given a new dimension through the discussion of the consequences of electoral arrangements for the achievement and/or survival of democracy in the developing countries. A leading analyst of the conditions of economic growth, W. Arthur Lewis, has formulated a strong indictment of the Anglo-French majority systems which the new African states inherited from their colonial masters. He argues that the Anglo-French systems had been developed and had found widespread acceptance in “class societies” and cannot work in the same way in the African “plural” societies—territorial polities seeking to integrate within their boundaries populations historically hostile to each other.

The surest way to kill the idea of democracy in a plural society is to adopt the Anglo-American electoral system of first-past-the-post. . . . First-past-the-post does not even require 51 per cent of the votes in each constituency to give one party all the votes. If there are three parties it can be done theoretically, with only 34 per cent; or if there are four parties, with only 26 per cent. Governments can get away with this in secure democracies without destroying faith. But if you belong to a minority in a new state, and are being asked to accept parliamentary democracy, you can hardly build much faith in the system if you win 30 per cent of those votes and get only 20 per cent of the seats, or even no seats at all. If minorities are to accept Parliament, they must be adequately represented in Parliament. (Lewis 1965, pp. 71–72)

These, of course, are exactly the arguments used in the “plural societies” of Europe for the introduction of PR. The entrenched linguistic, religious, or ethnic minorities had no faith in the majority representatives and threatened to disrupt the system. The introduction of PR was essentially part of a strategy of national integration—an alternative to monopolization of influence or civil war. But the extent of minority entrenchment varied greatly from country to country, and the pressures for pro-portionalization were nowhere exactly the same. This is a high-priority area for comparative research. To bring about some understanding of the great variations in electoral arrangements both in the West and in the postcolonial polities, it will be essential to study the crucial decisions on the suffrage, on privacy versus secrecy, on plurality versus PR, in the context of the process of nation building (Bendix 1964; Rokkan 1961; 1966b).

Electoral systems have not changed in vacuo. They function within culturally given contexts of legitimacy, and they are changed under the strains of critical “growing pains” in the development of the over-all constellations of national institutions. The comparative study of electoral developments can contribute a great deal to the understanding of processes and strategies of national integration, but the contributions will be meager and unreliable as long as the principal motivation for new research is a concern with the pros and cons of different schemes of electoral engineering.

The conditions for a real advance in comparative electoral research are present. An increasing number of dispassionate analyses of national electoral histories have been forthcoming in recent years, and steps are being taken to facilitate the conduct of statistical investigations through the development of “data archives” for computer analyses of time-series records (Rokkan 1966a; Rokkan & Meyriat 1967). What has been lacking so far has been an international forum for the advancement of detailed comparative studies. A beginning has been made, however, and it is hoped that the next decades will see a breakthrough in the comparative study of electoral systems.

Stein Rokkan

[See alsoLegislation; Parties, Political; Representation, article onrepresentationalsystems; Voting.]



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ELECTION . The concept of divine election appears in a number of religious traditions that espouse belief in an omnipotent and personal God. Although not unknown among certain religious groups in ancient Greece and India, it has had particular significance in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In each of these faiths, one finds the claim that God, although universal, has freely elected or chosen a particular group of people for a particular destiny or relationship with him. While belief in the conditions and beneficiaries of election vary even within the traditions themselves, a common set of difficult, and in some cases, unanswered questions underlie this article. First, how can belief in the election of a particular group of people be reconciled with belief in a universal God? Second, does the concept of election necessarily imply belief in the superiority of the chosen? Third, what is the relationship between election, predestination, and free will? And finally, how, in the face of competing claims to election, can one know if one's own claim is true?


Belief in God's having chosen Israel to be his ʿam segullah ("chosen people") has remained a central element of Jewish thought. Rooted in the biblical concept of covenant, it is developed further in the Talmud, in medieval philosophical and mystical writings, and in modern literary and theological texts. Although the concept of election is most closely associated with the Hebrew verb baar ("chose"), reference to election is often implied in other words. Indeed, belief in the election of Israel predates the introduction of the technical term baar in Deuteronomy (7:6, 14:2), a biblical text not written until the seventh century bce. Underlying God's promises to Abraham and his descendants in Genesis 12, and those to Moses and the people of Israel in Exodus 19 as well, is the conviction that Yahveh has freely chosen a particular group of people to be "his people," thus making himself known as "their God." In the covenant that he establishes with Abraham, he promises to make of Abraham and his descendants a great nation, bringing them to a land that would be their own. The covenant that he establishes at Mount Sinai becomes a renewal and extension of the earlier, Abrahamic covenant. Establishing a special relationship with the Israelites as a whole, he here identifies himself not only as the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" but also, more generally, as the "God of Israel."

The election of Israel, it seems, stems solely from God's love, not from any evidence of superiority or merit on Israel's behalf. Similarly, their election is one not of privilege but of obligation. "Let my people go," God repeatedly demands of Pharaoh, "that they may serve me" (Ex. 8:1ff.). In order to serve him, the Israelites are enjoined to refrain from worshiping or entering into a covenant with other gods (Ex. 20:3, 22:20, 23:32), and they are commanded to follow a clearly delineated code of moral and cultic behavior. Thus, by the eighth century bce, the prophet Isaiah admonishes those who outwardly follow cultic prescriptions but fail to recognize either the proper intent with which sacrifices are to be offered or the kind of moral life that divine election entails. As a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, they, as the prophet Micah maintains, are to "do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [their] God" (Mi. 6:8). They alone, the prophet Amos reminds them, have been known by God (Am. 3:2). Consequently, they bear a greater responsibility for their actions than do other people and will be punished by God for their transgressions. Nevertheless, as the eighth-century prophet Hosea insists, punishment does not negate their election. Comparing Israel to Gomer, the "wife of harlotry" whom the Lord commanded him to marry, he tells his listeners that while they have been "adulterous" in worshiping other gods and, like Gomer, will be punished for their actions, God will later renew his vow of betrothal, promising them, as Hosea promised Gomer, that if they return to him, he will "heal their faithfulness," turn aside his anger, and "love them freely" forever (Hos. 14:4).

According to the biblical view, certain Israelites are further elected for a specific role or office. Included are priests (Dt. 18:5, 1 Sm. 2:28) as well as kings (2 Sm. 6:21, Kgs. 8:16). Emphasis is placed on the responsibilities that they are given. Here, as elsewhere, divine election clearly implies a setting apart for service.

In the sixth century bce, following the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar, the destruction of the Temple, and the exile into Babylonia, the concept of election took on new and greater importance. Bereft of their holy sanctuary, with many exiled from their Holy Land, Israel, the people of God's promise, now known as Jews, came to identify suffering as a mark of their election. Although belief in the universality of their God, as expressed in the writings of the sixth-century "Second Isaiah," might have led them to conclude that their God, as God of the universe, had chosen another group of his creations to be his treasured people, their continued insistence that it was they alone whom God had chosen helped to create and nourish the hope that they would be redeemed in the future. In order to reconcile the particularity of Israel's election with the universality of God, prophets like "Second Isaiah" maintained that Israel had been chosen as a "light to the nations" (Is. 42:6). God had entered into a covenant with the people of Israel so that they might bear testimony to his reality, bringing others to recognize his greatness and to acknowledge that "besides [him] there is no god" (Is. 44:6).

The theme of Israel's election is reiterated throughout Jewish Hellenistic literature. In the Apocrypha, for example, Ben Sira describes the Lord as distinguishing between his creations, blessing and exalting some (i.e., Israel), cursing others (Sir. 33:12), while the author of 2 Esdras specifically mentions Israel as the one people loved by God (2 Esd. 5:27). Philo Judaeus and Josephus similarly refer to the spiritual uniqueness of the Jews. As Philo writes in his Life of Moses, although "their bodies have been moulded from human seeds their souls are sprung from Divine seeds, and therefore their stock is akin to God" (1.278279).

A more exclusivist view of election appears in the writings of the Jewish schismatics living near the Dead Sea during the first centuries before and after the beginning of the common era. They alone, they claimed, were the true Israel. Pointing to the revelation of truth given by God to their Teacher of Righteousness, they saw themselves as the faithful remnant of Israel, the last in line of those whom God had chosen. They had been chosen, they believed, to receive both divine grace and eternal knowledge (Rule of Community 11). In return for these gifts and for the new covenant established with them, they were strictly to obey the teachings of Moses and the prophets and consciously to live their lives under the guidance of the spirit of truth. Members of the community identified themselves as sons of light, set apart and prepared for battle against the wicked sons of darkness. It was their contention that this battle would soon occur, in which they, as sons of light, would emerge victorious.

As Géza Vermès implies in his introduction to The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (1962), a predestinarian element seems to underlie the community's assertion that it was loved by God before creation, its members destined to become sons of light. Yet as Vermès further maintains, the Qumran community, like other Jewish groups, continually insisted that election was not an inherited privilege. Only through a freely taken oath of allegiance to God and to the teachings by which the community lived could one claim to be a member of the new covenant of grace that God had established. Only then could one claim to be a member of the elect, chosen by God "for an everlasting covenant" and for everlasting glory.

With the fall of the Second Temple in 70 ce and a Diaspora existence that forced Jews to live as a minority among people who often sought to oppress them, the concept of election continued to serve as a source of pride, strength, and hope for a better future. As rabbinic Judaism developed concepts that were to become normative for Jewish life, election remained, as Solomon Schechter (1909) notes, an "unformulated dogma" running throughout rabbinic literature. Beginning in the late first century ce with the teachings of Yohanan ben Zakkʾai, emphasis was placed not only on the close relationship that continued to exist between God and Israel but also on the life of Torah, by which Jews, chosen for holiness by God, were to live. Holiness, as ben Zakkʾai maintained, depended on neither state nor sanctuary (Avot 2.8) but on the fulfillment of the Torah that alone constituted what ʿAqivaʾ ben Yosef identified as the essence of Jewish existence (Sifrei Dt. 11.22).

According to Benjamin Helfgott (1954), rabbinic emphasis on the election of Israel needs to be seen as part of a Jewish response to the Christian claim that Jews were no longer God's chosen people. While Helfgott admits that emphasis on Israel's election as a response to an anti-Jewish polemic predates the rise of Christianity and can be found as early as 300 bce, one can justifiably argue that the Christian challenge to the Jewish concept of election was more severe than those that predated it because Christianity's identification of the church as the true Israel posed a direct challenge to the theological foundations of Judaism itself.

The rabbis of the Talmud met this challenge not by direct debate but by reasserting their own doctrine of election with renewed emphasis and vigor. They insisted that the bond between God and Israel was indissoluble (B.T., Yev. 102b, Qid. 36a). Moreover, they maintained that even the destruction of the Second Temple needed to be seen within the larger context of a universal divine plan that included the future fulfillment of those prophetic promises made to the people of Israel. Thus, even in the face of calamity, the rabbis retained an unqualified faith in God's continuing love for Israel and Israel's love for God. To underscore their contention that God's love for Israel was not arbitrary, the rabbis offered a number of explanations as to why Israel had been chosen. According to Numbers Rabbah 14.10, for example, Israel was chosen because no other nation, though offered God's Torah, was willing to accept its precepts, while according to Genesis Rabbah 1.4, Israel's election was predestined even before the world was created. Some rabbis pointed to the humility and meekness of the Israelites as making them worthy of election, while most remained silent as to the merits or attributes that might have led to Israel's becoming the treasured people of God. None, however, believed that merit alone was sufficient cause for election. Quoting scripture to support their claim, they attributed Israel's election to God's freely given act of love.

Faith in God's special love for Israel came to be expressed most clearly in daily prayer. Biblically based concepts of election were incorporated into the liturgy as expressions of gratitude to the God who had chosen Israel from all people, loved and exalted them above others, sanctified them by his commandments, and brought them "unto [his] service." One finds these ideas articulated further in the works of such medieval thinkers as Saʿadyah Gaon, Avraham ibn Daud, asdai Crescas, and Isaac Abravanel. They receive greatest attention, however, in the twelfth-century Sefer ha-Kuzari by Yehudah ha-Levi, a work in which the concept of chosenness plays a central role. Written as a defense of Judaism, it identifies religious truth with that that was revealed at Sinai. Consequently, it declares that the Jews, chosen to bear that truth, are alone able to grasp what transcends the limits of reason. As Henry Slonimsky writes in his introduction to Judah Halevi: The Kuzari (1964), the concept of Israel's election leads ha-Levi to claim, for the Jewish people and their history, a unique and supernatural character. Yet, according to Slonimsky, it is because ha-Levi wishes to eliminate from his concept of chosenness either hatred or intolerance that he assigns other historical functions to Christianity and Islam, maintaining that in the future they will be converted to religious truth.

The assigning of supernatural uniqueness to the Jewish people finds further expression in Jewish mystical works of the Middle Ages. One finds in qabbalistic literature, for example, the claim that only the souls of Israel are from God while the souls of others are base material, or qellipot ("shells"). Given the precarious position of the Jew in medieval Europe, such claims, it seems, became a means of making bearable, if not intelligible, the continued oppression of the Jewish people.

Yet by the eighteenth century, with the growing acceptance of Jews into European society, the question of how one could become part of the modern world while retaining belief in a concept that clearly differentiated Jews from their non-Jewish neighbors, needed new answers. Even if one could demonstrate that the traditional concept of election was intended to imply a consecration for service rather than a claim to superiority, did not the claim serve to separate the Jews from the very people of whom they wanted to be part? Although some, like the eighteenth-century philosopher Moses Mendelssohn in his Jerusalem, assured his non-Jewish readers that the election of Israel did not entail privilege but obligations that could not be dismissed, nineteenth-century religious reformers in Germany, America, and later in England, emphasized the universal nature of Israel's election, reiterating that the spiritual mission with which they had been entrusted would benefit humanity as a whole.

While, as Arnold M. Eisen (1983) convincingly demonstrates, the concept of election remained a preoccupation among twentieth-century American Jewish thinkers, some, most notably Mordecai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionism, sought to eliminate the concept altogether. In his Judaism as a Civilization (1934), Kaplan suggested replacing the concept of election with that of vocation. Reflecting Kaplan's own rejection of belief in a supernatural God as well as his conviction that Jews could not hope to gain acceptance in American society as long as they maintained what, protestations notwithstanding, did seem to be a claim to superiority, his concept of vocation as the communal purpose that a specific group of people choose for themselves suggests that Jews are no more unique than others.

A number of theologians recently have sought to refute, either directly or indirectly, Kaplan's notion of Jewish "normalcy." Among them has been Michael Wyschogrod, who, in The Body of Faith: Judaism as Corporeal Election (New York, 1983), advances the provocative claim that in choosing Israel God chose a biological rather than an ideological people. Thus, he maintains, both religious and secular Jews are exclusively loved by God and have been chosen to enter into a covenantal relationship with him. No matter what the Jew does or believes, the fact remains that he or she has been chosen to serve as the vehicle through which God acts in history.


The Christian concept of election is rooted in the self-identification of the early church as the true Israel. While acknowledging that the Jewish people had originally been the chosen of God, early Christian theologians insisted that those Jews refusing to acknowledge Jesus as their Messiah could no longer claim the status of divine privilege. Viewing Israel as a community of the faithful rather than as the biological descendants of Abraham, Paul declares that "not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel" (Rom. 9:6). His contention here, as elsewhere, is that the concept of election, though once referring solely to the Jewish people, the Israel of the flesh, had been superseded by a new concept referring to those Jews and Gentiles who, by accepting the church's teachings, can justifiably claim to be the true Israel of the spirit. Identifying the spiritual Israel with Isaiah's faithful remnant, Paul maintains that they alone are the heirs to God's promise of redemption.

Reinterpreting the biblical concept of covenant, Paul proclaims a new covenant of salvation, available to all who profess faith in the risen Christ. Given apart from the covenant with Abraham and his spiritual seed, it actually precedes the Mosaic covenant (obedience to the Torah), which, according to Paul, is a covenant of slavery (Gal. 4:231). Although Paul does not argue that Jews should no longer keep the Law, he does insist that the Law in and of itself cannot lead to salvation. Given to Israel as a means of curbing sin, the Law, Paul says, can only bring condemnation, while the new covenant of faith brings rebirth and freedom. Paul does not deny that the Jews remain chosen by God. Indeed, in Romans 11:29 he states that the "gifts and the call of God are irrevocable." Yet Paul equates the Mosaic covenant simply with Law, as opposed to spirit, and with privilege, as opposed to service. Given this understanding, he then distinguishes between the Law, which is irrevocable though ultimately ineffectual, and the privileged relationship between God and Israel, which, as John Gager argues in his The Origins of Anti-Semitism (New York, 1983), Paul believes to have been "momentarily suspended."

Paul's extension of the concept of election to include Jews and Gentiles served as both a stimulus to greater missionary effort and as a didactic vehicle through which the responsibilities and privileges of the Christian life were made clear. By the second half of the first century, however, as the rift between Judaism and Christianity deepened, giving way to a predominantly Gentile church, Christians focused their claim to election on the church (Gr., ekklēsia, "the chosen") alone, with some, like Stephen, insisting that the Israelites, in his view stiff-necked and resistant to the Holy Spirit, had actually never been God's chosen people (Acts 7:51). According to this view, the Mosaic covenant existed only to predict the true covenant of the future. In the Gospels and other New Testament texts, emphasis is placed not only on the elect, whose righteousness and faith reveal the workings of the Holy Spirit, but also on Christ as the elect one, the model of repentance and faith necessary to enter God's kingdom (Lk. 9:35, 23:35). Although election ultimately rests on an act of divine grace, proof of one's election lies in obedience to the call that Christ has issued. Indeed, as John maintains, using the image of Jesus as a shepherd gathering the elect of all nations, it is only through Christ, the "door of the sheepfold," that one gains access to the Father (Jn. 10:1ff.).

In the epistles of the first- and early second-century bishop Ignatius, emphasis is placed on the spiritual gifts, or privileges, that divine election entails. Although all people, he writes, enjoy such temporal blessings as food and drink, only baptism leads to the bestowal of both spiritual nourishment (i.e., the Eucharist) and eternal life. From the second through the sixth century, a number of works were written proclaiming the election of the church as a substitute for the election of Israel. Thus, for example, in his Three Books of Testimonies against the Jews, the third-century bishop Cyprian maintains that with the cessation of all tokens of the "old dispensation," a new law, leadership, prophecy, and election would occur, with Gentiles replacing Jews as God's chosen people. Rosemary Ruether, in her Faith and Fratricide (New York, 1974), views this literary tradition as part of an ongoing polemic against a Judaism that by its continued and active existence seemed to challenge many of the church's teachings. Moreover, she maintains, by establishing a number of contrasting images between the synagogue and the churchcarnality versus spirituality, blindness versus sight, rejection versus electionthe church was better able to affirm who it was and what it hoped to be. Although the church's anti-Judaism did not always lead to a position of anti-Semitism, the use of such biblical narratives as that of the older brother Esau's forfeiting his birthright to his younger twin brother, Jacob, to convey the relationship between Judaism and Christianity powerfully underscored the church's theological claim that it alone was the true "seed of Abraham," elected by God to enter the kingdom of heaven.

The schismatic Donatist church of North Africa, originating in the early fourth century and formally denounced as heretical in the year 405, advanced its own concept of election. Formed in opposition to those bishops who, in response to the Diocletian edict of May 303, surrendered their sacred books to the civil authorities, it began to consecrate its own bishops, beginning with Majorinus as bishop of Carthage in the year 312. Claiming that the traditores (surrenderers) and their successors did not possess the Holy Spirit and therefore could not validly administer the rite of baptism, it maintained that it alone represented the catholic (or universal) church of Peter. Those who developed Donatist teachings, and in particular Majorinus's successor Donatus, from whom the church took its name, viewed the world as the dominion of Satan represented by the wicked "sons of traditores. " Forced to separate from a church that had polluted itself through its alliance with worldly powers, they insisted that only they were pure, "without spot or wrinkle." As such, they believed, they alone were the elect of God. While the opposition of Augustine and others eventually curbed its influence and growth, Donatism persisted in North Africa through the sixth century and quite probably into the seventh century and the arrival of Islam.

Between the tenth and fourteenth centuries, a number of neo-Manichaean Christian sects similarly laid claim to election. Identified by orthodox Christianity as "Manichaean" because of their dualist worldview, their identification of the God of the Hebrew Bible with Satan, and their strict asceticismall characteristics of the Manichaean religion founded in the third century by the Persian Manisuch groups as the Armenian Paulicians, the Byzantine Bogomils, and the Latin Cathari denied that they were either heretics or Manichaeans; rather, they insisted, they alone represented true Christianity. While the label neo-Manichaean reflects the recognition by contemporary historians that Manichaean elements were present in each of these groups, scholars disagree as to whether or not a direct connection can be established between the Manichaeism of Mani and its later Christian manifestations. In either case, however, like the early Manichaeans, these medieval Christian sects divided their members into different grades or classes, including the two primary classes of the "elect" and the "hearers." Like the early gnostic pneumatics (also identified as the elect), those who were initiated into the class of the elect claimed to possess true knowledge of the self, the world, and God. Among the Cathari, the neo-Manichaean group about whom there exists greatest knowledge and whose influence seemed to be most widespread, members of the elect dressed in black, carried a copy of the New Testament in a leather bag, and embraced a rigorous asceticism that was intended to free them from contact with the material world. Bound to chastity, poverty, and abstention from meat, milk, eggs, cheese, and presumably wine, they ate only one meal (of vegetables) a day, fasted several days a week and at particular seasons, regularly engaged in prayer, and yearly accepted one new piece of clothing. Prohibited from owning property, accumulating wealth, and working in any occupation, they were cared for by the hearers, whose confessions they heard and in whose religious instruction they were engaged.

For the Cathari, as for other neo-Manichaean groups, election implied purity, perfection, and knowledge. The elect saw themselves as superior to others in having nearly achieved a state of pure spirit during their lifetime; they claimed that they alone had the privilege of entering the Paradise of Light immediately after death. According to Malcolm Lambert (1977), both religious and social considerations led many to Catharism and to preparation for their future initiation as one of the elect. While some became Cathari solely out of religious conviction, many, especially among the rural aristocracy and the lower classes, turned to Catharism as a result of their rejection of what they perceived to be the growing luxury and corruption of orthodox Christianity and as a positive affirmation of self-sacrifice and poverty. In addition, Lambert maintains, the initial equality of men and women within the class of the elect attracted a significant number of women to Catharism and to the high ritual status that it alone afforded.

Within the reformed tradition, and especially within Calvinism, the concept of election came to play a particularly prominent role. Identifying the elect as those individuals predestined for salvation, John Calvin asserted that election was rooted in a divine purpose that predated the creation of the world. According to Calvin, humanity existed in a state of total depravation. Although God had sent his son to atone for human sinfulness, the efficacy of this atonement extended only to those whom God already had chosen. Rooted solely in God's love and mercy, election, in Calvin's view, was completely gratuitous, bearing no relationship to human merit. While the few who were elected into the "covenant of life" would be redeemed, the majority of humanity, rejected by God, would be condemned to eternal damnation. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536), Calvin describes the election of Israel as a first degree of election, superseded by a second degree in which God retains some of Israel as his children and freely adopts others. Through the preaching of the gospel and an accompanying "illumination of the spirit," the elect are called to membership in Christ, bound through their election to one another. Faith, Calvin maintains, is a seal of one's election that, together with the attaining of righteousness, becomes a confirmation to the individual that he or she indeed has been chosen.

English Puritans and their American descendants similarly placed the concept of election at the heart of their theology. Sharing Calvin's belief in a double predestination consisting of the election of the few and the condemnation of the many, they described in great detail the covenant of grace into which the elect had entered. Made possible through Christ's perfect obedience, this covenant held out both the assurance of forgiveness and the promise of salvation. According to the Puritans, this covenant needed to be appropriated in faith, with salvation subsequently mediated through established laws and institutions. Great emphasis was placed on the experience of regenerating grace as a sign of one's election. By the end of the seventeenth century, this experience became a necessary requirement for membership in both American and English Puritan churches. While the later institution of the halfway covenant enabled those who had been raised as Puritans but had not undergone the personal experience of conversion to retain their membership, Puritan churches in America continued to identify themselves as congregations of visible saints, called by God to a glorious future for which they had made elaborate preparation.

Greater awareness and appreciation of the religious beliefs of others has led a number of contemporary Catholic and Protestant theologians to reassess the traditional Christian concept of election. Ruether, for example, concludes her Faith and Fratricide by offering ways in which the Christian understanding of the new covenant as superseding the old might be relativized so as to acknowledge the legitimacy of ongoing Jewish claims. Similarly, Paul Van Buren, in his Discerning the Way (New York, 1980), suggests that Jewish and Christian concepts of election be seen as parallel claims that point toward a common hope for redemption. Sharing the concerns of both Ruether and Van Buren, Walter Bühlmann, in God's Chosen Peoples (Maryknoll, N.Y., 1982), suggests that chosenness be seen not as an exclusive privilege but as an inclusive model of human closeness to God. Distinguishing between a theology and an ideology of election, he warns against using religious convictions to generate and perpetuate a mentality of intolerance and supremacy.


Although the concept of election is not as fully articulated in Islam as it is in Judaism and Christianity, the Qurʾān frequently uses the word ʿahd ("injunction, command") to convey the agreement or covenantal relationship existing between Allāh and his prophets and believers. Occasionally used as a synonym for ʿaqd ("contract"), ʿahd implies the dynamic, religious engagement of the believer with Allāh, manifest through the obligations that the believer agrees to assume.

The Qurʾān affirms the election of both particular individuals, including Noah, Abraham, Moses, the Hebrew prophets, and Jesus, and their communities. It further affirms the election of God's last and greatest prophet, Muammad, and his community of believers. This community (the ummah ) is identified in the Qurʾān with the biblical saving remnant. For the Muslims, other nations have sought after God, but it is the Islamic community alone that has drawn close to him. This community is not to be identified with any ethnic or social group but consists of all believers. While, according to John Wansbrough (1977), specific doctrines identifying Muslims as superior did not develop until later, the Qurʾān distinguishes Allāh's servants from others by identifying Muslims as the "purified ones" (sūrah 37:40) or, more simply, as "the elect" (38:47).

It is in Sufism, however, that the concept of election receives greatest attention. Developed during the ninth and tenth centuries ce, Sufism proclaimed that nothing exists but Allāh. The ūfīs arrived at this claim not through intellectual knowledge but through mystical insight, or gnosis. The ūfīs identified this insight as the inward essence of islam, or submission to God, an essence that, they maintained, could be penetrated only by the elect. According to the ūfīs, the elect were those who not only experienced the divine directly but also, as Martin Lings (1961) notes, could pass with no transition from thought to action, from the "next world" and its mysteries to this world and all that it contained.

Believing that gnosis led one to attain the highest rank of human perfection, second only to the prophets, ūfīs laid claim to sainthood. They based this claim not on personal merit but on Allāh's love or grace. To be chosen, then, was to receive the gift of sainthood, a gift that enabled one to penetrate into mysteries that could not be grasped through rational comprehension. Quoting a ūfī poet, Lings describes the mystical intelligence of the ūfī as a flawless jewel, an exquisitely beautiful gift that enables the elect to lift the veil from the "light of Allāh" and recognize that there is nothing but God.

The concept of election as a gift given to special souls even before their creation has led a number of scholars to associate the ūfī claim to election with that of predestination. While these concepts are not identical with one another, the sense of being not merely called by God but overwhelmed by him, led early ūfīs in particular to view their decision to leave the world and devote themselves to Allāh as a decision dictated or suggested to them. As Annemarie Schimmel writes in her Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1975), the mystic has been chosen (iafā ) by God for himself, not only to become a vessel of his love but also to participate in the primordial covenant established even before the creation of Adam and to remain pure through the meticulous observance of both Islamic law and Islamic tradition.

See Also

Free Will and Determinism; Free Will and Predestination.


While most works on election have been narrowly focused, Steven T. Katz's Jewish Ideas and Concepts (New York, 1977) and the essay on "Chosen People" by Nelson Glueck and others in The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia (New York, 1941) provide good overviews of the appearance of this concept throughout Jewish history. Harold H. Rowley's The Biblical Doctrine of Election (London, 1950), although written from an explicitly Christian perspective, is useful in illuminating most of the major references to this concept in the Hebrew Bible, while Solomon Schechter's Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (1909; New York, 1961) and Benjamin Helfgott's The Doctrine of Election in Tannaitic Literature (New York, 1954) remain important sources of information in discovering the development of this concept in early rabbinic literature. For a detailed description of the appearance of this concept in qabbalistic literature, see Gershom Scholem's Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941; New York, 1961). Eugene B. Borowitz's Choices in Modern Jewish Thought (New York, 1983) offers a clear, though brief, summary of the development or rejection of the concept of election in the works of such twentieth-century Jewish thinkers as Leo Baeck, Mordecai Kaplan, and Richard Rubenstein. Particularly noteworthy is Arnold M. Eisen's The Chosen People in America: A Study in Jewish Religious Ideology (Bloomington, Ind., 1983), which offers a penetrating analysis of what Israel's election has mean to American rabbis and theologians from 1930 to the present.

J. C. V. Durell, in his The Historic Church (1906; New York, 1969), gives an excellent summary of the concept of election in early Christianity. The Donatist claim to election is clearly detailed in W. H. C. Frend's The Donatist Church (1952; Oxford, 1971). Perhaps the most extensive study of neo-Manichaeanism to date is Steven Runciman's The Medieval Manichee: A Study of the Christian Dualist Heresy (Cambridge, 1947). Also of interest, especially in its examination of the social conditions leading to neo-Manichaean claims to election, is Malcolm D. Lambert's Medieval Heresy (New York, 1977). The concept of election in Calvinism and in Reformed theology as a whole is well summarized in Heinrich Heppe's Reformed Dogmatics (London, 1950). For a more detailed and exhaustive examination of this concept, especially in American Puritanism, see Edmund S. Morgan's Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea (New York, 1963).

John Wansbrough's Quranic Studies (Oxford, 1977) provides a fine overview of the Qurʾanic concept of election, showing its relationship to themes of retribution, covenant, and exile. The development of this concept in Sufism is clearly traced by Robert C. Zaehner in his Hindu and Muslim Mysticism (London, 1960) and receives special attention in Martin Lings's A Moslem Saint of the Twentieth Century: Shaikh Ahmad al-Alawi (London, 1961).

New Sources

Abrahamov, Binyamin. Divine Love in Islamic Mysticism: The Teachings of al-Ghazâlî and al-Dabbâgh. Routledge Curzon Sufi Series. London and New York, 2003.

Bader-Saye, Scott. Church and Israel after Christendom: The Politics of Election. Boulder, Colo., 1999.

Cosgrove, Charles H. Elusive Israel: The Puzzle of Election in Romans. Louisville, Ky., 1997.

Jacobs, Louis. God, Torah, Israel: Traditionalism without Fundamentalism. Cincinnati, 1990.

Neusner, Jacob, Bruce Chilton, and William Graham. Three Faiths, One God: The Formative Faith and Practice of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Boston, 2002.

Novak, David. The Election of Israel: The Idea of the Chosen People. Cambridge and New York, 1995.

Peters, Francis E. The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition. Princeton, N.J., 2003.

Wells, Jo Bailey. God's Holy People: A Theme in Bibical Theology. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. Supplement Series, no. 305. Sheffield, U.K., 2000.

Ellen M. Umansky (1987)

Revised Bibliography


views updated May 21 2018



The Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter (18831950) is well known for portraying competitive elections as the crux of democracy. Since Schumpeter, competitive elections have been depicted as catalysts that spur other aspects of democracypublic participation, governmental transparency, and public debates about policy. Adam Przeworski, in particular, argues that once political rights are sufficiently extensive to admit conflicting interests, everything else follows, even if effective participation is far from universal (1991, p. 10). Yet, political scientists and policymakers must be mindful not to equate elections even free and fair oneswith democracy. Terry Lynn Karl (1986) emphasizes that focusing solely on elections could lead one to overlook where real political power lies. If an external actorfor example, the military or a foreign powerpromotes competitive elections only when the results advance that actors self-interest and rescinds them when they do not, then one could hardly call the polity in question a democracy. Likewise, elections alone are not likely to constrain the temptations of corruption and graft. Rather, elections must operate alongside other democratic institutionsindependent media, developed parties, the rule of law, and an active civil societyif they are to yield the codes of conduct associated with representative democracy. Despite these caveats, however, even critics of minimalist definitions of democracy view free and fair elections as necessary, though not sufficient, for democracy.

Although scholars generally agree that elections are necessary democratic institutions, little consensus exists as to what the rules governing elections should look like. For example, majority rule may seem like a logical option because the winner under such a voting system is the candidate or party that enjoys the support of over half of the voters participating in the election. However, Kenneth Arrow (1951) demonstrates that, when three or more candidates or parties compete in an election, it is possible for none of the candidates to enjoy the support of a majority. Just as social choice theorists, like Arrow and Amartya Sen (1970), have considered the normative implications of specific voting rules, other scholars have considered the advantages and disadvantages of different electoral systems.

One of the most important decisions for a new democracy is the selection of the parliamentary electoral system: the rules governing how popular votes are translated into parliamentary seats. Perhaps the most important feature of a parliamentary electoral system is its district magnitudethe number of legislators representing each electoral district. District magnitude is a fundamental feature for differentiating among parliamentary electoral systems. Single-member district systems, like the system used to elect members of the U.S. House of Representatives, are systems where each legislator represents a different district. Since only one seat is allocated from each district, the systems average district magnitude equals one. At the extreme opposing a single-member district system is a proportional representation system where all representatives are elected in a single, nationwide district on the basis of party lists. In these cases, the average district magnitude equals the number of seats in parliament. A systems average district magnitude is important because it directly influences the degree to which the number of seats that a political party receives is proportional to its share of the popular vote. The higher the district magnitude and the larger the assembly size, the better the fit between the percentage of votes cast for a party and the percentage of seats allocated to it.

Not all proportional representation systems have district magnitudes equal to the number of seats in their parliament, however. Some electoral systems divide the country into several multimember districtsdistricts that elect two or more legislatorseven varying the number of representatives per district. Theoretically, then, the number of possible electoral systems is infinite. Indeed, electoral systems vary in many ways besides their district magnitudes. For example, they differ with regard to the mathematical formula used to allocate district seats. Single-member district systems can distribute each seat on the basis of plurality rule (i.e., the candidate with the most votes wins), majority rule, or preference voting (i.e., allowing voters to rank candidates and then distributing the vote according to those rankings). Likewise, different mathematical formulas are used for allocating parliamentary seats in multimember districts. In addition, some electoral systems require political parties to win a minimum level of support (e.g., a percentage of the vote or a number of district elections) to gain representation in parliament.

Although electoral systems take many forms, the consequences of electoral systems are commonly discussed in terms of their levels of proportionality (Duverger 1954; Rae 1967; Taagepera and Shugart 1989; and Cox 1997). Systems that are more proportional allow smaller parties representing specific societal interests a better chance of representation. However, since more-proportional systems grant more parties seats in parliament, they decrease the likelihood that one party will enjoy a parliamentary majority. Thus, a common criticism leveled against proportional representation systems is that they are more likely to produce coalition governments. Accordingly, proportional representation systems can produce unstable governments, governments in which coalition partners blame one another for policy shortcomings to shirk public accountability, and even governments where the policy influence of small parties outstrips their popular support simply because they emerge as critical to coalition formation. Under proportional representation systems, then, the process of government formationas opposed to the actual electioncan be decisive in determining whether voter preferences are fulfilled or denied.

Less-proportional systems, meanwhile, limit party fragmentation. They undermine the incentives that elites have to form new parties, as well as the incentives that voters have to support new parties. Under single-member district plurality, in particular, one party is more likely to win a majority of seats in parliament. As a result, these systems can prove more responsive to changes in public attitudes: Where candidates need just a plurality of the vote to win elections, a small shift in the distribution of votes can create a significant shift in the distribution of parliamentary seats. Yet majoritarian systems can also frustrate public accountability. In New Zealand, for example, popular dissatisfaction with the two major parties that dominated politics spurred notable third-party voting in the 1970s and 1980s. However, New Zealands single-member district plurality system also kept third parties out of parliament while overrepresenting the two major parties. As a result, growing distrust of the system fueled a reform movement that ultimately led to a change in the electoral system itself (Denemark 2001).

Electoral systems, then, influence the degree to which elections fulfill different visions of democracy (Powell 2000). Less-proportional systems limit party proliferation while underrepresenting smaller groups in society. While these systems may make it easier for voters to hold policymakers accountable, the range of policymakers is more constrained than under more-proportional systems. More-proportional systems, meanwhile, permit the representation of a broader cross section of the public. However, these systems can make it more difficult for voters to hold policymakers accountable, since policies result from a complex bargaining process among a larger number of political parties in parliament.

Implicit in much of this literature, then, are the consequences that electoral systems have on attitudes toward government and on voter behavior during elections. Of course, extensive research exists on how and why people vote, and much of this literature goes beyond institutional impediments or incentives. For example, Anthony Downs (1957) argues that voters assess the expected costs and benefits associated with different options and choose the one whose policies are likely to net them the greatest gain. While this contention seems straightforward, its underlying logic also makes the act of voting seem paradoxical. If voters make decisions by simply weighing costs and benefits, why do they vote at all? The probability of one vote determining an elections outcome is so small that any expected benefit associated with voting will not outweigh the costs of collecting information, or even going to the polls. Numerous scholars have sought to resolve this paradox within the framework of rational choice (Riker and Ordeshook 1968, Aldrich 1993), while others have chosen to understand voter turnout using social-psychological explanations (Teixeira 1987, Franklin 1996). Of course, when one compares voter turnout across countries, institutional explanations (i.e., the rules of the game) once again prove significant (Jackman 1987, Blais and Carty 1990).

SEE ALSO Authority; Campaigning; Democracy; Democracy, Indices of; First-past-the-post; Gerrymandering; Ideology; Political Parties; Voting Patterns; Winner-Take-All Society


Aldrich, John. 1993. Rational Choice and Turnout. American Journal of Political Science 37 (1): 246278.

Arrow, Kenneth J. 1951. Social Choice and Individual Values. New York: Wiley.

Blais, André, and R. K. Carty. 1990. Does Proportional Representation Foster Voter Turnout. European Journal of Politics 18 (1): 167181.

Cox, Gary W. 1997. Making Votes Count: Strategic Coordination in the Worlds Electoral Systems. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Denemark, David. 2001. Choosing MMP in New Zealand: Explaining the 1993 Electoral Reform. In Mixed-Member Electoral Systems: The Best of Both Worlds?, eds. Matthew Soberg Shugart and Martin P. Wattenberg, 7095. New York: Oxford University Press.

Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper.

Duverger, Maurice. 1954. Political Parties: Their Organization and Activity in the Modern State. Trans. Barbara North and Robert North. New York: Wiley.

Franklin, Mark. 1996. Electoral Participation. In Comparing Democracies: Elections and Voting in Global Perspective, eds. Lawrence LeDuc, Richard G. Niemi, and Pippa Norris, 216235. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Jackman, Robert W. 1987. Political Institutions and Voter Turnout in the Industrial Democracies. American Political Science Review 81: 405423.

Karl, Terry Lynn. 1986. Imposing Consent: Electoralism vs. Democratization in El Salvador. In Elections and Democratization in Latin America, 19801985, eds. Paul W. Drake and Eduardo Silva, 936. San Diego: Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies, University of California, San Diego.

Powell, G. Bingham. 2000. Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Przeworski, Adam. 1991. Democracy and the Market: Political and Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Rae, Douglas W. 1967. The Political Consequences of Electoral Laws. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Riker, William H., and Peter C. Ordeshook. 1968. A Theory of the Calculus of Voting. American Political Science Review 62: 2542.

Schumpeter, Joseph. 1947. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. 2nd ed. New York: Harper.

Sen, Amartya K. 1970. Collective Choice and Social Welfare. San Francisco: Holden Day.

Taagepera, Rein, and Matthew Soberg Shugart. 1989. Seats and Votes: The Effects and Determinants of Electoral Systems. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Teixeira, Ruy A. 1987. Why Americans Dont Vote: Turnout Decline in the United States, 19601984. New York: Greenwood.

Bryon J. Moraski


views updated Jun 27 2018


The processes of voting to decide a public question or to select one person from a designated group to perform certain obligations in a government, corporation, or society.

527 Groups and the 2004 Elections

As of the 2004 elections, 527 groups, so-called because of their organization and regulation under section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, were tax-exempt political organizations allowed to raise unlimited "soft money" for such quasi-political activities as voter mobilization and registration and/or issue advocacy. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) did not require 527 groups to file regular disclosure reports unless they were functionally operating as political parties or political action committees (PACs).

PACs, on the other hand, are expressly organized for the purpose of political action; e.g., activities expressly advocating the election or defeat of a particular federal candidate or activities involving electioneering communications. PACs may spend limited "hard money" for the express purpose of electing or defeating candidates: $5000 per candidate per election, or $15,000 per political party.

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), Pub. L. No. 107-155, 116 Stat. 81, commonly known as the McCain-Feingold law, ostensibly banned soft money donations made directly to political parties by labor unions, corporations, non-profit organizations, or wealthy individuals, as well as placed limits on advertising that these groups could sponsor. It also prohibited the solicitation of those donations by elected officials and restricted the use of funds raised by political parties for advertising on behalf of candidates (in the form of "issue ads" or "coordinated expenditures").

Notwithstanding, according to the Center for Public Integrity, 527 committees raised and spent just over a half-billion dollars for the 2004 election cycle. A review of filings with the FEC showed that almost $60 million of 527 monies was targeted (between August and October 2004) for television and radio airtime to influence the presidential and congressional elections. Several of these media messages were memorable; e.g., those denouncing President Bush's military service or calling attention to Vice-president Dick Cheney's personal investment interests.

In early September 2004, the Bush Campaign filed suit in federal district court , requesting emergency relief to force the FEC to take action against at least five Democratic-oriented fundraising 527 groups (including Move On.org, MediaFund, and Americans Coming Together) for violating campaign financing laws. The complaint charged that the 527 groups "conspired to circumvent the law" by "working in complicity with other long established special interest groups and wealthy individuals to illegally raise and spend soft money while illegally coordinating their efforts…all for the express purpose of defeating President Bush."

Administrative complaints from the campaign and the Republican National Committee had previously been filed with the FEC in March and April 2004. The FEC had originally intended to propose new rules for regulating the 527 groups, but decided to defer change until after the 2004 campaign.

Meanwhile, with the FEC and district court taking no action, supporters of the Republican Party began organizing their own 527 groups, the most media-centered of which was the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which undermined candidate John Kerry's Vietnam War service record. President Bush, after being asked to denounce the 527 group's message, declined in the specific but generally stated his opposition to all 527 groups.

Following this, and with still no response from the district court in CV 04-1501, the congressional sponsors of the BCRA (McCain-Feingold Bill) filed their own suit against FEC in federal district court for failure to act. Shays/Meehan v. FEC. Both Senators John McCain and Russell Feingold, the originators of the law, both filed amicus briefs in the case, supporting the challenge. This suit followed an August 2004 vote by FEC to enact limited restrictions on the operations of some 527 groups. However, the Senators considered these proposed changes ineffectual and weak in their ability to control the compliance of 527 groups with existing campaign finance law, especially regarding the source and amount of contributions a "political committee" could accept. The August FEC proposal essentially voted against subjecting 527 groups to the same rigorous fundraising rules that applied to PACs.

In their amicus briefs, the Senators accused the FEC of engaging in a "mass evasion, circumvention, subversion, and violation" of campaign finance law by failing to prevent 527 groups from accepting unlimited contributions to promote and/or defeat the presidential candidate.

On September 15, 2004, the district court refused to force the FEC to act on administrative complaints filed in March by the Bush campaign, stating in its decision that "That's the way Congress has set it up and apparently that's the way Congress likes it." Three days later, a different district court judge in the Shays/Meehan case struck down 15 of the regulations the FEC had written to implement the BCRA. The court found multiple regulatory provisions that created the potential for "circumvention" of campaign finance law, such as those addressing coordination between campaigns and outside groups, as well as flaws in several statutory definitions.

One month later, the same judge denied FEC's request to stay the ruling, but noted that the ruling did not prevent the FEC from continuing to enforce its existing regulations until it implemented new ones. The current 2004 election campaign, then, would continue unaffected by the ruling. (The FEC appealed, but later developed new rules in December 2004 that took effect in January 2005.) Following this development, EMILY's List, a Democratic-leaning political organization, filed suit in January 2005 to strike the FEC's new regulations, claiming that the FEC had, among other things, exceeded its statutory authority; that the rules were promulgated without sufficient notice; and that FEC's actions violated the First Amendment. A federal judge denied EMILY's List a preliminary injunction .

In February 2005, Senator McCain, along with Senators Feingold, Lott, and Representatives Shays and Meehan, introduced the 527 Reform Act of 2005. He was critical of the FEC for not acting against the "blatant effort to influence the outcome of last year's Presidential election…" by 527 groups spending "soft money." "The blame for this lack of enforcement," said McCain, "does not lie with the Congress, nor with the Administration. The blame for this continuing illegal activity lies squarely with the FEC." He also noted that the U.S. Supreme Court had come to the same conclusion in McConnell v. FEC, 540 U.S. 93, 124 S.Ct. 619, 157 L.Ed.2d 491 (2003).

In 2005, Senator Trent Lott (R.-Miss.) introduced 527 Reform Act of 2005, S. 1053. The proposed law would not shut down 527 groups, but would require their registration as political committees, bringing them under the same regulatory scheme as other federal political committees. New rules would prevent unlimited soft money from being channeled into federal election activities and would limit funds raised for non-federal accounts to individuals (not corporations and labor unions) in an amount not greater than $25,000.

Wisconsin State Government Corruption: State Senator Brian Burke

After years of legal wrangling and challenges to prosecutors' jurisdiction, the corruption case involving former Wisconsin state senator Brian Burke (D-Milwaukee) might finally go to trial in late 2005. In June 2005, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court rejected the former senator's request to review his motion to dismiss misconduct-inoffice charges against him.

The saga began in the summer of 2001, when a "John Doe probe" uncovered evidence of alleged

corruption involving Burke. The same probe later netted several other prominent Wisconsin lawmakers, as well as a number of their aides.

At the time, Burke was popular with his constituents and was the favorite to win the job of state attorney general. He withdrew from that race and did not seek re-election to his senate post in 2002. Burke has vigorously denied any wrongdoing. In a speech before the Wisconsin Senate in July of 2002, Burke accused the district attorney who had brought the charges of seeking "to destroy my family to further his own interests."

Burke was initially charged with 18 felonies. Eight of them involve Burke allegedly claiming an $88-per-day expense allowance even while away from his office. Others include using aides as campaign workers (in the attorney general's race) on state time, soliciting financial aid from donors in return for political favors, and destroying evidence requested by investigators. As initially charged, he faced a maximum of $180,000 in fines, 100 years in prison, and revocation of his law license.

Others indicted as a result of the probe include Wisconsin Senate majority leader Chuck Chvala, former Assembly speaker Scott Jensen, assembly majority leader Steve Foti, and assistant majority leader Bonnie Lawdig. Chvala, a Democrat, faces 20 felony counts primarily involving extortion, while the other three, all Republicans, face various charges involving using aides to perform campaign work for them on state time. Lawdig was only charged with one misdemeanor and was not a part of later criminal proceedings described in this article.

From the beginning, one of Burke's attorneys, Robert Friebert, characterized the charges as "gross overkill" and unfair, a result more of sloppiness on his client's part than any of concerted effort at wrongdoing. He claimed that rules regarding using aides on campaigns were fuzzy at best. He also claimed that since aides are free to work on campaigns during their off hours, the rules were not broken as long as the aides averaged a forty-hour work week, regardless of the combination or timing of those hours.

Thus far, Burke's attorneys have used some interesting defenses in aiding their client. In 2002, Friebert filed a motion claiming that Burke, as a member of a legislature currently in session, was immune from arrest according to the wording of Wisconsin law. In August of 2002, the trial judge rejected this contention and, on appeal, the state appellate court similarly rejected it.

In late June of 2004, Burke won a major victory as Dane County Circuit Judge Bill Foust threw out the five felony charges related to soliciting campaign donations on state property. Judge Foust opined that the law was so broad that it "applies to everyone in the world." Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard quickly filed five misdemeanor charges to replace the five felony charges.

The trial was set for October of 2004, but Burke appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing that his trial should wait until the trials of the other politicians had concluded. On October 12, the state Wisconsin Supreme Court permitted Judge Foust to schedule a new date.

The next move by attorneys representing all of the disgraced politicians in these cases was to argue in the Wisconsin Supreme Court that district attorneys (part of the executive branch) cannot charge lawmakers (part of the legislative branch), because to do so would violate the separation of powers written into the state constitution. Three of the seven justices excused themselves from the proceedings. On March 23, 2005, the four remaining justices ruled unanimously that prosecutors had not overstepped their authority and that trials could proceed. However, as to arguments that charges should be dismissed regarding the use of aides for campaign work, based on the assertion that no specific laws prescribe the way aides may act, and that there was no fair warning that legislators might have been breaking campaign rules, the justices deadlocked 2-2. The effect was to uphold the appeals court's decision on this matter and thus was a victory for the prosecution.

On May 5, 2005, Burke's attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the eight felony counts relating to Burke's claiming of expenses to which he was not entitled. They argued that these charges were unrelated to the aims of the original John Doe probe. District Attorney Blanchard countered that as the probe progressed and the allegedly misallocated expenses came to light, they constituted an action "that could reasonably be investigated." In response, Judge Foust asked Blanchard to submit a timeline showing how the probe was able to uncover records of these expenses. A hearing on the subject was scheduled for June 3.

The actual trial of Brian Burke was set to begin on October 23, 2005. When it begins, more than three years will have elapsed since the initial filing of charges. Whether the trial begins as scheduled, what further surprising motions either side will file and the results of the dismissal motion of May 5 remain to be seen and studied.

Clingman v. Beaver

In Clingman v. Beaver, 544 U.S. __, 125 S.Ct. 2029, __ L.Ed.2d __ (2005), the U.S. Supreme Court held that Oklahoma's primary election statute , which prohibits political parties from inviting voters registered with other political parties to vote in their primaries, did not violate the First Amendment's right to freedom of association . The Court's decision reversed that of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which held that the statute imposed a severe burden on associational rights and that it was not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest . As of 2005, 23 other states had semi-closed primary laws similar to that of Oklahoma.

The issue arose several months prior to the 2000 presidential elections. The Libertarian Party of Oklahoma (LPO), which had struggled to maintain a viable membership in the state (it had fewer than 500 voters), notified state officials that it intended to invite all voters from all parties to vote in its primary election. The State Election Board agreed that non-affiliated "independent" voters could be invited, but not members of other political parties. According to Okla. Stat. Ann., Title 26, Section 1-104A, only registered members of a political party may vote in that party's primary. The LPO filed suit in federal district court , seeking injunctive relief. In the suit, the LPO asserted that Oklahoma's semi-closed primary law unconstitutionally burdened First Amendment rights to freedom of political association. Several Republicans and Democrats joined the LPO as plaintiffs.

The district court did not conclude its bench trial prior to the 2000 primary election, but the LPO pursued the case. The court ultimately held that the Oklahoma statute did not severely burden such associational rights. The Tenth Circuit reversed, holding that the semi-closed primary law, which could only be deemed constitutional if it were narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest, placed a severe burden on protected associational rights. The state had articulated its interest in "preserving the political parties as viable and identifiable interest groups, [and] insuring [sic] that the results of a primary election…accurately reflect the voting of the members." Finding the state's articulated interests to be non-compelling, the appellate court enjoined Oklahoma from using the statute. Because that decision not only enjoined Oklahoma's law, but also cast doubt on the similar semi-closed primary laws of 23 other states, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari .

In May 2005, the Court held, in a 6-3 decision, that Oklahoma's semi-closed primary system did not violate the First Amendment's right to freedom of political association. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, agreed that regulations imposing severe burdens on associational rights must be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest, but when they impose lesser burdens, 'a State's important regulatory interests will usually be enough to justify reasonable, nondiscriminatory restrictions." (quoting Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party, 520 U.S. 351, 117 S.Ct. 1364, 137 L.Ed.2d 589 (1997)). In a previous case, Tashjian v. Republican Party of Conn., 479 U.S. 208, 107 S.Ct. 544, 93 L.Ed.2d 514 (1986), the Court had left open the question of whether a state could prevent a political party from inviting registered voters of other parties to vote in its primary.

The Court alluded to the Constitution's grant to States of broad power to prescribe the "Time, Places, and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives,"(Art. I, section 4, clause 1) which is matched by state control over the election process for state offices. The majority opinion concluded that requiring voters to register with a party before participating in that party's primary election was a minimal burden on that voter's associational rights. The opinion further noted that when a voter was unwilling to disassociate from another party in order to vote in the LPO's primary election he formed little association with the LPO and vice versa.

The Court also deemed the state's articulated interests as more compelling than had the Tenth Circuit. Quoting several previous cases, the Court added several other related interests served by such a semi-closed primary law, e.g, enhancing parties' electioneering and party-building efforts, and guarding against party raiding and "sore loser" candidacies by spurned primary contenders. In summary, the Court held that any burden that the law imposed was minor and that it served to justify legitimate state interests.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor agreed with most of the majority's reasoning but wrote a separate opinion, in which she was joined by Justice Stephen Breyer. That opinion expressed concern that other Oklahoma laws governing party recognition and changes in party affiliation could unreasonably restrict voters' ability to participate in the LPO's primary. Although this case appropriately reviewed only the statute at issue, an appropriate future case might warrant review of the cumulative effects of the state's overall primary scheme to determine whether a more severe burden existed.

Justice John Paul Stevens filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter. The dissent expressed concern that voters were not given a chance to participate in third-party elections. The effect of such a law limiting primary participation could serve to preserve the power of the major parties and could insulate them from competition.

Concerns Over E-voting Endure in 2004

Overall, the early reports on the use of electronic voting machines in the U.S. elections of November 2004 were promising, and some type of e-voting will likely proliferate in future elections. A post-election report from CNN quoted a member of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, which has studied e-voting since 2000, as saying that no major systemic meltdowns with electronic voting had occurred during the November 2004 election. In fact, most of the Election Day problems were procedural, such as issues with voter registration and check-in, and could be attributed to human error by voters and poll workers.

The nonpartisan, not-for-profit voteractivist group Verifiedvoting.org tracked thousands of reports of glitches with voting machines on Election Day 2004. According to its web site, problems included recording different candidates from those whom the voter intended, and machines that either crashed or failed to boot up. However, given that approximately 40 million people used electronic voting machines, the number of reported problems was comparatively small.

Verifiedvoting.org's data indicate that only 6% of the total voting errors on Election Day were due to machines, while approximately one-third of the reported problems were traced to voter-registration issues. Members of the organization also continue to lobby state legislatures to encourage them to adopt electronic voting machines that will give voters paper receipts. Such monitoring and lobbying could pressure e-voting equipment manufacturers to make the machines as efficient and secure as possible. Despite reports that voting machines had logged more than 3,000 incorrect votes for Bush in the battle ground state of Ohio, this error would not have been great enough to change the outcome of the election.

The quest for accurate and confidential voting systems dates at least as far back in history as the ancient Greeks, who dropped balls or beans into containers marked with the names of candidates to indicate their choices.

In the United States, the presidential elections of 2000 were mired in controversy due to an inability to read punch-card ballots. "Hanging chads" became a national joke, and the U.S. Supreme Court effectively ceded the

election to George W. Bush over Al Gore. The court's ruling cut short a recount of ballots in Florida.

In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), legislation that designate d money to each state to fund a transition from paper ballots to voting via computer. Approximately one-third of U.S. voters used electronic voting machines in the 2004 elections. Overall, voters in the 2004 election used a patchwork of procedures including paper ballots, punch cards, lever machines, optical scanners, and electronic voting machines.

Despite concerns over the accuracy and security of e-voting, a lawsuit brought against Diebold Election Systems, one of the primary manufacturers of the voting machines, by the Maryland Board of Elections was rejected in September 2004. The inability of the current electronic voting machines to produce a paper receipt remains a stumbling block for many people, and it makes a recount impossible. Two bills introduced in Congress would amend HAVA by requiring a paper trail to verify voters' choices. These bills remain active.

Diebold's company web site states that any ballot cast on its voting machines is stored and can be printed out at a later date. However, if a problem occurred on Election Day, the stored record might be incorrect as well. In addition, computer scientists critiqued the 2004 models as susceptible to programming errors, malfunction, and tampering.

The question of printers versus no printers adds another element to the e-voting debate. While computer technology organizations including the Association for Computing Machinery and Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility support the use of printers for each voting machine, others argue that printers are costly and that they create more work and potential problems for poll workers. However, supporters and detractors of e-voting agree that problems can occur in elections regardless of the technology used: Levers can jam, chads can hang, and voters can make mistakes in indicating candidates of choice.

Studies conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University in 2003 found that computer hackers could devise their own computerized ballots and alter the results, or even vote multiple times. On the other hand, cheating during an election is nothing new. Instances of stuffing ballot boxes and forging the names of deceased voters have occurred throughout history.

According to CNN.com, the National Institute of Standards and Technology will define standard requirements for electronic-voting equipment. The future of voting in the United States might include more mail-in ballots (which are now used in Oregon) and voting via the Internet, telephone, or even interactive television.


views updated May 21 2018


ELECTIONS. An election is a process by which qualified individuals choose a candidate or set of candidates to represent them in office. Elections may involve a selection by a very restricted group, such as a legislature, or it may be broadly extended to universal adult suffrage. The process of election is linked, however, to choices of candidates rather than issues. Thus referenda, ballot propositions, state constitutions, charters, or amendments put before the voters do not constitute elections in the strictest sense. Since direct democracies involve decision making by the entire body politic, the system of elections is nearly unnecessary. Election, therefore, is a republican rather than a purely democratic institution.

Election systems play a vital part in representative democracy, however. The possibility of free unconstrained choice is a vital component in determining how democratic a country may be. In addition, the limitations on the voting franchise also limit the extent of true representation of the population. While both the British constitution and the American Declaration of Independence recognize the people's right to overthrow a tyrannical government, the system of free elections makes revolutions unnecessary, so long as the will of the people is accurately reflected and carried out. The American system of elections evolved out of the parliamentary system of polling for members of Parliament. In the Middle Ages, the right to vote for members of Parliament was spread rather broadly throughout the freehold population. In the towns, or boroughs, the vote was sometimes extended to all adult males. These were known as "potwalloper" boroughs, because the only criterion that an adult free male needed to meet in order to vote was possession of a pot.

Elections in the American Colonies

By the late seventeenth century in England, and in the English colonies, restrictive property qualifications were the norm. In Virginia, for example, property qualifications were sufficiently restrictive that less than one quarter of the free white male population could vote. In Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, the voting universe was somewhat larger, perhaps one-third of the free adult white male population. This demographic was a function of the more even distribution of wealth in the northern colonies. In no colony before the American Revolution was a majority of adult white males allowed to vote.

In southern American colonies and states like Virginia and South Carolina, polling took place over several days in the county seat, usually in the square in front of the courthouse. This practice continued well into the nineteenth century. In the southern colonies, before the polling actually took place, the candidates would usually provide refreshment for their neighbors, which included rum toddies and a "bull roast." Since only the gentry could afford such an expense, this custom ensured that in colonial elections only the wealthiest members of the gentry could afford to run for office. Once the polling began, the candidate might "spout" or give a speech, usually not related to politics. When the polling began, the eligible freeholders would stand up and announce their votes in front of their neighbors. After each vote, the candidate would personally thank the voter for this "honor." This public announcement meant that the community could exert a kind of coercive force on the voters. Since each vote was recorded by name, voters were usually very deferential in their behavior at the time they exercised their vote. They could, however, heckle the candidates in a good-natured sort of way, and sometimes this threat of humiliation was enough to keep well-qualified candidates from running for office. James Madison, who had helped draft the U.S. Constitution and the Federalist Papers, was very reluctant to run for office in the first congressional election of 1788. As a very short man with an insecure ego, Madison required a lot of persuasion from his friends to brave the humiliation.

Elections before the U.S. Civil War

After the American Revolution, the extension of voting rights to a wider group of men took nearly two decades. Only after the turn of the nineteenth century, beginning with the election that Thomas Jefferson called "the Revolution of 1800," did men with little or no property begin to vote. Then, between 1800 and 1816, voter turnout widened dramatically. In those years voter turnout in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and North Carolina rose to over 60 percent of the adult white male population. In the New England states and in Pennsylvania, as African American slaves were emancipated, African American adult males were also permitted to vote. African Americans in this first flush of enfranchisement were often given equal opportunity to vote with whites in the North. By the 1840s property restrictions on adult white male voters had been almost entirely eliminated, except in the state of South Carolina. Ironically, however, increased property restrictions were imposed on free African American males in both New York and Pennsylvania in this so-called "Age of the Common Man."

Perhaps because of their service in the American Revolution, or perhaps by oversight, New Jersey legislators permitted female heads of household possessing more than £50 of property to vote. Women heads of household possessed the vote in New Jersey until 1807. In that year the state legislature repealed the vote for women, perhaps because women tended to vote Federalist and the state for the first time in 1807 came under the control of the Democratic Republicans.

Beginning in the nineteenth century, voice voting gave way to ballot voting. In the Old South this did not occur without some protest. Many politicians of the older generation feared their loss of control of the election process. They complained that voice voting ensured against corruption: a vote accounted for at the time it was delivered could not be stolen. Ballot boxes could be stuffed and voting rolls could be padded, and they frequently were. Voice voting, however, did not ensure against corruption. It only ensured against voter autonomy. Kentucky, which had been one of the first states to institute ballot voting, from 1792 to 1799, reinstituted voice voting and was the last state to abandon it before the Civil War.

By the 1840s political parties developed into nationally competitive organizations, and new election rituals connected the voters to the political parties. In the month leading up to an election, voters would assemble in mass rallies. In the large cities, several thousand people at a time might gather at one of these rallies. In the "Log Cabin" campaign of 1840, for example, voters in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and smaller cities across the Union gathered in the city centers to show their support for "Old Tippecanoe," William Henry Harrison, who allegedly lived in a log cabin beside the Ohio River and drank hard cider. Actually, Harrison was the son of a signer of the Declaration of Independence and came from one of the most prominent families in Virginia. He lived in a very grand house and drank Kentucky bourbon but that did not stop the mass rallies around replicas of his log cabin that were set up in every city of any size. The Whigs, who sponsored Harrison's campaign, called for ball-rolling rallies during the Log Cabin campaign. Young boys were set to work rolling an enormous ball through the cities and towns to demonstrate the popular momentum of "Old Tip."

Not to be outdone, the Democrats centered their campaign on Martin Van Buren, whom the party nicknamed "Old Kinderhook," or "O.K." Like "Old Hickory" before him (Andrew Jackson), O.K. was supposed to be a man of the people living simply on his farm in upstate New York. Although Van Buren and the Democrats lost the campaign of 1840, Van Buren's nickname became so ubiquitous in the American language in the late 1830s and early 1840s that anything that had popular approval came to be "O.K." in the American idiom. This is a remarkable testament to how prevalent electioneering language became in American speech.

Election newspapers began to appear with great frequency in the 1840s. Both the Democratic Republicans and the Federalists had supported electioneering newspapers for a short period leading up to an election in the early part of the century. By the 1840s these electioneering newspapers had become important in themselves. The most famous of these electioneering newspapers was the New York Log Cabin, which was edited by an ambitious young editor newly emigrated from New Hampshire named Horace Greeley. Greeley's experience on the Log Cabin led to his editorship of the New York Tribune. Not only Whigs like Greeley, but also Democrats like Duff Green and Isaac Hill, had electioneering experience. Hill and another editor, Francis P. Blair, were among the most important members of Andrew Jackson's Kitchen Cabinet.

Election Frauds and "Reforms"

In the era of the Civil War, elections took on a more militaristic quality. Voters were urged into "battle." They drilled in military formations. Over and over, voters were reminded to "Vote as you shot!" In these late-nineteenth-century elections, American adult men reached the highest levels of participation ever recorded in the United States. Typically in the North and Midwest, a presidential election year might see a turnout of 70 to 80 percent of all adult male voters. There were few restrictions on voting and in many urban areas where large numbers of immigrants lived the urban machines enlisted votes even before they were formally qualified as citizens.

The late-nineteenth-century elections relied on ethnocultural dissonance to sustain voters' loyalties at the polls. Republicans were more likely to be northern European, Protestant, Union Civil War veterans, middle class, and in favor of protectionism. For the Republicans, African Americans in the South were the most reliable ethnic cohorts. Democrats were more likely to be southern or eastern European, Catholic, Confederate Civil War veterans, working class, and in favor of free trade. For the Democrats, southern whites and Irish Catholics constituted the most reliable blocs of voters.

Beginning in the 1870s and accelerating in the 1890s, the American voting universe began to shrink, thanks to many of the reforms instituted to protect elections from "voter fraud." After 1877, with the withdrawal of federal troops from the South, African Americans were gradually systematically excluded from voting. By the 1890s the African American vote in the South was negligible, thanks to outright intimidation, poll taxes, and highly subjective "literacy tests." This was defended by some in the South as a necessary "reform" to end political "corruption." In the northern cities, voter registration laws allowed for a much more stringent inspection of immigrants' claims of citizenship. Residency requirements, waiting periods, and literacy in English all helped reduce the immigrant vote and the power of the urban machines.

Ironically, one of the most important reforms that reduced the power of the political parties was the introduction of the Australian ballot, beginning in the United States in 1888. The Australian ballot, which had been in use in that country for thirty years, listed all candidates for all offices on a single sheet of paper. Reformers hailed this victory for individual autonomy over the coercion of political party machines. The benefits were not so clear, however. Many voters were confused by the way the lists of candidates were presented on these "secret" ballots. Many times they voted for someone they had not intended to choose, or they abandoned voting for candidates "down the list": for those minor offices where name recognition did not aid them in making a choice.

With the introduction of the Australian ballot, the primary election became increasingly important in determining which candidate would be the party's "nominee." Before the Australian ballot, the nomination function had been the prerogative of the political parties. At the end of the nineteenth century, Minnesota instituted a mandatory state primary system and by the 1920s this became the favored means of selecting candidates for state and local offices.

In the South, however, the primary became a means of circumventing African American participation in elections even if they could gain the right to vote. In many southern states, winning the Democratic primary election was tantamount to winning office. Beginning in the 1920s, some southern states instituted a "whites only" clause in the primary election, stipulating that only whites could be "members" of the Democratic Party and only "members" of the party could vote. The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed this practice as a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment in a Texas case in 1944, Smith v. Allwright.

After World War I the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, and in 1920 for the first time women across the nation were permitted to vote in all elections. In addition to New Jersey's brief experiment with woman suffrage, Wyoming had allowed women to vote since 1869 and western states generally were more favorable in extending full equality to women than the states in the East. Although women in the late twentieth century were more likely to vote than men, in the 1920s many women were discouraged from voting. Women have been blamed for the low turnout in the 1920 and 1924 elections, when voter turnout in the presidential race plummeted in 1916 from 61.6 percent of all eligible adults (including women in some states) to 49.2 and 48.9 percent, respectively. While some research indicates women voted in lower numbers in those years, other factors, including conflicted sympathy, may have depressed turnout generally, as it did in elections in the 1990s. In any event turnout rose dramatically during the Great Depression and, by 1936, 61.6 percent of all adult men and women were voting.

Elections in the Late Twentieth Century

In the 1950s the political scientist V. O. Key produced an influential study in which he argued that certain "critical" elections produced fundamental realignments of American voters. "Critical" elections showed higher turnout and changes in key blocs or generational cohorts of voters in favor of one party. The elections of 1800, 1828, 1860, 1896, and 1932 were the elections Key identified. Each one of these elections ushered in a new political "party system," with different ideologies and voter loyalties.

In a series of studies commenced at the University of Michigan in the 1950s, and continuing through the election of 2000, survey researchers began examining how voters made choices in elections. The results caused serious concerns for political scientists and citizens alike. Voters increasingly drew upon information from television in making up their minds before election day. Party preference played an increasingly limited role in determining how voters chose a candidate. Voters indicated that personality and single issues often determined which candidate they would vote for.

In the age of television, as political scientists and citizens' groups pointed out, a candidate who was relatively untested in office and unknown by his party could be elected to office on the basis of his or her good looks, winning personality, or position on a single issue that might be irrelevant to other important issues before the public. As the twentieth century wore on, electronic media became increasingly expensive and the political parties were faced with the necessity of full-time fundraising in order to get their message before the public.

Campaign finance reform was attempted in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal but, like all previous election reforms, the Watergate financing laws had unintended consequences. By allowing for "soft money" (contributions of large sums of money by special interest groups and individuals to political parties ostensibly for "party building" purposes that are unrelated to influencing federal elections), campaign finance reform created a loophole in regulating political campaign financing that has made oversight difficult, if not nearly impossible. Campaign finance reform was sponsored by a group of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans at the turn of the twenty-first century because both parties and all politicians were spending too much time raising money to do their jobs effectively. As the result of an uncertain presidential election outcome in 2000, both parties declared the need for clearer, less ambiguous ballots and for an overhaul of voting machines. Reversing the trend of the early twentieth century, twenty-first-century reformers urged legislators to reform the ballot process by protecting against confusion rather than fraud.


Baker, Jean H. Affairs of Party: The Political Culture of Northern Democrats in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983.

Benson, Lee. The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy: New York as a Test Case. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1961.

Burnham, Walter Dean. Critical Elections and the Mainsprings of American Politics. New York: Norton, 1970.

Chambers, William Nisbet, and Walter Dean Burnham. The American Party Systems: Stages of Political Development. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Clubb, Jerome M. Electoral Change and Stability in American Political History. New York: Free Press, 1971.

Jordan, Daniel P. Political Leadership in Jefferson's Virginia. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia Press, 1983.

Key, V.O. The Responsible Electorate: Rationality in Presidential Voting, 1936–1960. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1966.

McWilliams, Wilson Cary. Beyond the Politics of Disappointment? American Elections, 1980–1998. New York: Chatham House, 2000.

Nie, Norman H., Sidney Verba, and John R. Petrocik. The Changing American Voter. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976.

Sydnor, Charles. Gentlemen Freeholders: Political Practices in Washington's Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1952.

Andrew W.Robertson

See alsoBallot ; Suffrage ; Voting .


views updated May 21 2018


The processes of voting to decide a public question or to select one person from a designated group to perform certain obligations in a government, corporation, or society.

Elections are commonly understood as the processes of voting for public office or public policy, but they also are used to choose leaders and to settle policy questions in private organizations, such as corporations, labor unions, and religious groups. They also take place within specific government bodies. For example, the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislatures elect their own leaders.

In elections, a candidate is a person who is selected by others as a contestant. A ballot is anything that a voter uses to express his or her choice, such as a paper and pen or a lever on a machine. A poll is the place where a voter casts his or her ballot.

For government policy and leadership, a general election is commonly understood as a process of voting that regularly occurs at specified intervals. For national elections, Congress has designated the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November as election day. A special election is held under special circumstances. For example, if an elected official dies or resigns from office during her or his term, a special election may be held before the next scheduled general election for the office.

The free election of government leaders is a relatively recent practice. Until the eighteenth century, leaders gained political power through insurrection and birthright. Political thought changed dramatically in eighteenth-century Europe, where industrial progress inspired the reconsideration of individual rights and government. The notion that government leaders should be chosen by the governed was an important product of that movement.

The United States held its first presidential election on February 4, 1789. In that election, george washington was chosen U.S. president by a small, unanimous vote of electors. Since its infancy, the United States has held elections to decide who will assume public offices, such as the offices of the president and vice president, U.S. senators and representatives, and state and local legislators. Individual states have also held elections for a wide range of other government officials, such as judges, attorneys general, district attorneys, public school officials, and police chiefs.

Elections for public offices are governed by federal and state laws. Article I of the U.S. Constitution requires that a congressional election be held every two years and that senators be elected every six years. Article II provides that a president and a vice president shall be elected for a four-year term. In 1951, the states ratified Amendment 22, which provides that no person may serve as president more than twice.

For the federal oversight of national elections for public office, Congress created the federal election commission (FEC) with 1974 amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (2 U.S.C.A. §§ 431 et seq.). The FEC provides for the public financing of presidential elections. It also tracks and reveals the amounts and sources of money used by candidates for national office and their political action committees (PACs). The FEC enforces the limits on financial contributions to, and expenditures of, those candidates and committees. To receive FEC funding, PACs must register with the FEC.

States regulate many aspects of government elections, including eligibility requirements for candidates, eligibility requirements for voters, and the date on which state and local elections are held. U.S. citizens have the right to form and operate political parties, but the state legislature may regulate that right. For example, a candidate may not be placed on an election ballot unless he or she has registered with the state election board. Many states maintain stringent requirements for would-be candidates, such as sponsorship by a certain number of voters on a petition. A monetary deposit also might be required. Such a deposit may be forfeited if the candidate fails to garner a certain proportion of the vote in the election.

Some states have sought to place limitations on contributions received by individual political candidates. In Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC, 528 U.S. 327, 120 S. Ct. 897, 145 L. Ed. 2d 886 (2000), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld limitations that the state of Missouri had placed upon contributions to individual candidates for state office, against a challenge that the limitations violated the contributors' and candidates' first amendment rights. (See also election campaign financing).

No state may abridge voting guarantees of the U.S. Constitution. Under the Constitution's twenty-fourth amendment, for example, no state may make the payment of a poll tax or other tax a requirement for voting privileges. Under the fifteenth amendment, states may not deny the right to vote based on "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." The nineteenth amendment prevents states from denying or abridging the right to vote based on sex.

In the early 1990s, 15 states passed legislation that limited the tenure of U.S. senators and representatives. In 1995, these "term-limit" measures were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. In United States Term Limits v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779, 115 S. Ct. 1842, 131 L. Ed. 2d 881 (1995), the state of Arkansas had amended its constitution to preclude persons who had served a certain number of terms in the U.S. Congress from placing their names in future U.S. Congress elections. Arkansas cited Article I, Section 4, Clause 1, of the U.S. Constitution for support. This clause allows that "[t]he Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof." Arkansas further argued that its amendment merely restricted ballot access and was not an outright disqualification of congressional incumbents.

The Supreme Court disagreed with Arkansas. In a 5–4 opinion, the Court rejected the constitutionality of any term-limits legislation. According to the majority, the only qualifications for U.S. congressional office were contained in two constitutional clauses. Article I, Section 2, Clause 2, of the U.S. Constitution provides that a representative shall be at least 25 years of age, a citizen of the United States for at least seven years, and a resident of the represented state at the time of the election. Article I, Section 3, Clause 3, states that a senator shall be at least 30 years of age, a citizen of the United States for at least nine years, and an inhabitant of the represented state when elected. These provisions, according to the Court, were designed to be the only qualifications for U.S. congressional office, and any additional qualifications are unconstitutional.

Although the Constitution prohibits term limits for the U.S. Congress, it does not prevent states from setting term limits for their own legislatures.

Administration of Government Elections

Voters register with a precinct, which is a local voting district. Registration must be accomplished in the manner prescribed by state statute. The polling place may be any structure authorized by the state to serve as such. All states allow absentee voting for persons who cannot be present in their precinct on election day. Voting is secret, whether by absentee ballot or at the polls.

Election officials are charged with the supervision of voting. In some states, voters indicate their preferences by pulling a lever in a voting machine; in other states, they use a paper and pen. At the end of the voting day, election officials count, or canvass, the results and report them to city or county officials or to the state board of elections. The complete results are filed with the secretary of state or some other designated state-government official. The candidate with the most votes is then declared the winner of the election. This process is called a direct election because the winner is determined by a straight count of the popular vote.

The election of a president and vice president usually occurs by indirect election. That is, the winner is usually determined not by a popular vote but by an electoral vote. Each state has a certain number of electors, is equal to the total number of senators and representatives to which the state is entitled in Congress. In theory, an elector may vote for whomever he or she wants, but in practice, electors vote for the winner of the popular vote in their state.

Primaries and Conventions

A political party is entitled to nominate candidates for public office, subject to regulation by Congress and state legislatures. The nominating process is accomplished through a system of primaries, caucuses, and nominating conventions. The process varies from state to state, but generally, primaries and caucuses produce delegates who later cast votes at a nominating convention held several weeks or months before Election Day. Political parties hold nominating conventions at the local, state, and national levels to choose candidates for public office in the upcoming elections.

A primary is a preliminary election held by a political party before the actual election, to determine its candidates. A primary may be open or closed. An open primary is one in which all registered voters may participate. The number of delegates a candidate receives is then based on the candidate's performance. In some states, the winner of the popular vote wins all the delegates available to the state at the nominating convention. In other states, candidates receive a portion of delegates based on their respective showings.

In a closed primary, only voters who have declared their allegiance to the party may vote. Closed primaries may be indirect or direct. In an indirect, closed primary, party voters only elect delegates who later vote for the party's candidates at a nominating convention. In a direct, closed primary, party voters actually decide who will be the party's candidates, and then choose delegates only to communicate that decision at the nominating convention.

In some states (e.g., Iowa), political parties use a caucus system, instead of a primary system, to determine which candidates to support. A caucus is a local meeting of registered party members. The manner in which delegates are chosen at these caucuses varies widely from state to state. In some states, each party member who attends the caucus is entitled to one vote for each office. The caucus then produces an allotment of delegates based on the popular vote in the caucus, and these delegates later represent

the caucus in the county, legislative district, state, and national conventions. In other states, those who attend the caucus vote for delegates who pledge their support for certain candidates. These delegates then represent the caucus at the party's nominating conventions.

At a convention, delegates vote to determine who will emerge as the party's candidate. Usually, if no candidate wins a majority of the delegates on the first round, delegates are free to vote for a candidate other than the one whom they originally chose to support. More often than not, candidates have garnered sufficient delegates in the primaries and caucuses before the nominating convention to win the nomination. Where particular nominations are assured prior to the convention, the convention becomes a perfunctory celebration of the party policies, and an advertising vehicle for the nominated candidates.

Conflicts over nomination procedures often arise within a political party. In 1991, the Freedom Republicans, a group representing minority members of the republican party, launched an attack on the party's allocation of delegates among the states. Since 1916, the Republican Party had employed a bonus-delegate system as a method of determining delegate representation at its national convention for nominating presidential candidates. Under that system, each state received a number of delegates equal to three times its electoral college vote. States that elected Republican presidents, senators, representatives, and governors then received an additional allotment of delegates. The bonus delegate system gave certain Republican-dominated states a greater say in choosing the party's presidential candidate.

According to the Freedom Republicans, the bonus-delegate system reduced the representation of minority interests within the party because minority members often came from Democrat-dominated states. The largely rural, Republican-dominated, western states contained small minority populations, so minorities were poorly represented in the Republican delegate system. The Freedom Republicans sued the FEC under title VI of the civil rights act of 1964(42 U.S.C.A. § 2000d) in an attempt to stop FEC funding of the Republican National Convention.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the FEC to create and enforce regulations governing the selection of delegates to the publicly funded national nominating conventions of political parties. On appeal by the FEC, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated the order. The appeals court held that the connection between the FEC funding and the Republican delegate scheme was insufficient to hold the FEC accountable for the delegate scheme. According to the court, it was also unlikely that the Republican party would change its delegate scheme if funding were withheld (Freedom Republicans, Inc. v. Federal Election Comm'n, 13 F. 3d 412 [D.C. Cir. 1994]).

The First Amendment protects against a state's intrusion on the governance or structure of a political party. However, courts have held that states have the right to enact reasonable regulations of parties, elections, and campaign-related disorder. The U.S. Supreme Court in Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party, 520 U.S. 351, 117 S. Ct. 1364, 137 L. Ed. 2d 589 (1997) held that states may lawfully prohibit candidates from appearing on a ballot as the candidate of more than one political party.

In 1994, Minnesota State Representative Andy Dawkins ran unopposed for office. Two different political parties, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party and new party, wanted him to run on their ballots, which he agreed to do. Local election officials, citing so-called "anti-fusion" laws, refused to place Dawkins on the ballot under the "fused" parties. The New Party, a minor political party, brought suit, alleging that the anti-fusion law violated its First Amendment associational rights.

Although the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit agreed that the system was unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed, finding that the state of Minnesota had "important regulatory interests" in forbidding a candidate from appearing on the same ballot. The Court, per Chief Justice william rehnquist, noted that a party does not have the absolute right to have its nominee appear on the ballot as a candidate, and that the anti-fusion law did not impose a severe burden on the New Party. The Court also rejected the New Party's contention that this law interfered with the ability of a minor party to take part in the election process.

Initiatives and Referendums

The voting results on important questions of public policy are commonly known as referendums or propositions. These results decide whether a policy becomes law or whether a state constitution will be revised or amended. An initiative is the bringing about of legislative or constitutional changes through the filing of formal petitions. If an initiative is supported by a certain percentage of the population, it may be included on an election ballot for public approval. Referendums and initiatives allow for the development of legislation independent of formal legislative processes. Not all state constitutions provide for referendums and initiatives.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation, Inc., 525 U.S. 182, 119 S. Ct. 636, 142 L. Ed. 2d 599 (1999), considered the constitutionality of a series of controls on the petition process for placing initiatives on the ballot in the state of Colorado. The controls included requirements that the individuals who circulated petitions were registered voters and that those who circulated petitions wear badges indicating whether they were volunteers or paid employees (and, if they were paid employees, the names and telephone numbers of their employers). Although states may place certain limitations on these ballots and initiatives, the Court held that the particular limitations in Colorado violated the First Amendment associational rights of the petitioners.


A campaign is the time preceding an election that a candidate uses for promotion. Election campaigns for public offices in the United States have evolved into complex, expensive affairs. Candidates rely on a variety of support, from financial contributions to marketing and campaign specialists. Elections for national office require large sums of money for advertising and travel. Local elections also favor candidates who are well financed. Historically, the money needed for successful campaigns has come from major political parties, such as the Republican and Democratic parties.

Criminal Aspects

The U.S. Congress and state legislatures prohibit a wide variety of conduct in connection with elections. It is criminal conduct, for example, for a candidate to promise an appointment to public office in return for campaign contributions (18 U.S.C.A. § 599). Numerous laws prohibit the coercion of voters, including the solicitation of votes in exchange for money, interference with voting rights by armed forces personnel and other government employees, and the intimidation of voters.

The enforcement of criminal laws can face the odd challenge on election day. In State v. Stewart, 869 S.W.2d 86 (Mo. App. 1993), Robbin Stewart was stopped for speeding as he returned from voting in a primary election. Stewart argued that the case against him should have been dismissed because article VIII, section 4, of the Missouri Constitution provided that voters should be "privileged from arrest while going to, attending and returning from elections, except in case of treason, felony or breach of the peace."

The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District rejected Stewart's argument. The appeals court noted that in the past, the Missouri Committee on Suffrage and Elections had entertained the idea that the clause cited by Stewart should apply to primary elections as well as general elections, and that the committee had refused to adopt the expansion. In a footnote, the court advised that the U.S. Supreme Court had construed the phrase "treason, felony or breach of the peace" as including all criminal offenses (Williamson v. United States, 207 U.S. 425, 28 S. Ct. 163, 52 L. Ed. 278 [1908]). Such a reading would seem to nullify the objective of Missouri's constitutional clause. Nevertheless, the existence of such an election-day privilege is a testament to the importance of free elections in the United States.

The 2000 presidential election was one of the most controversial in U.S. history, where george w. bush won the election by defeating former Vice President albert gore jr. in the

electoral college despite the fact that Gore had won the popular vote. Although much of the attention of the country focused upon contested election returns in the state of Florida, the election also involved other controversies. In 2000, a resident of Illinois, James Baumgartner, opened a web site called Voteauction.com, which purported to allow voters to sell their absentee ballots over the internet to the highest bidders. Although a court in Illinois quickly closed it down, the site reopened in several other states. State and federal law enforcement officials hounded Baumgartner, who finally sold the site to an Austrian, Hans Bernhard.

Baumgartner claimed that he had opened the site as a publicity stunt to raise awareness of fraud in government. Bernhard, on the other hand, maintained that he operated the site for the purpose of making a profit. Several state and local agencies brought actions against him immediately, seeking to have the site shut down before the November 7, 2000 election. Moreover, Bernhard faced a contempt charge for violating a court order in Illinois requiring him to shut the site down. Bernhard's Internet service provider eventually shut down the site before the election.

further readings

Amy, Douglas J. 2000. Behind the Ballot Box: a Citizen's Guide to Voting Systems. Westport, Conn.: Praeger.

Norris. Pippa, ed. 1998. Elections and Voting Behavior: New Challenges, New Perspectives. Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, Dartmouth.

van Schagen, J.A. 2000. Electoral Systems and Representative Government. Nijmegen, Belgium: Stichting Ars Aequi.


Election Campaign Financing; Gerrymander; Voting Rights Act of 1965.


views updated May 18 2018


The processes of voting to decide a public question or to select one person from a designated group to perform certain obligations in a government, corporation, or society.

Crawford v. Marion County Election Board

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 ruled that a voter identification system from Indiana was not unconstitutional. The basis of the ruling was that the state has a valid interest in protecting the integrity and reliability of the electoral process.

In 2005, Indiana enacted a statute that requires citizens who are voting on election day to present a piece of photo identification that is issued by the government. This “Voter ID Law” applies to those voting in person during primary and general elections, but it does not apply to those voting through absentee ballots. An indigent voter or someone who objects to being photographed on religious grounds must execute an appropriate affidavit before a circuit court within 10 days following the election for votes from those individuals to count. Likewise, a person who has photo identification but fails to present it on election day may vote, but that person's vote will count only if the person presents photo identification within 10 days of registering his or her vote. The state provides free photo identification to qualified voters.

Immediately after the Indiana Legislature passed the bill imposing the Voter ID Law, the Indiana Democratic Party and the Marion County Democratic Central Committee brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana against state officials responsible for enforcing the statute. The plaintiffs sought a judgment that the law was invalid and sought to enjoin enforcement of the statute. A second suit was brought on behalf of several nonprofit organizations that represent groups of elderly, disabled, poor, and minority voters, as well as two elected officials who would be affected by the law. The State of Indiana intervened to defend the statute's validity.

The plaintiffs in the case argued that the Voter ID Law substantially burdens the right to vote, which would violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiffs also argued that the law imposes an election method that is neither necessary nor appropriate for avoiding election fraud . Moreover, the lawsuit alleged that the law would effectively disfranchise qualified voters who do not possess required identification and will impose an unjust burden on those who could not easily obtain this identification.

An expert named Kimball W. Brace submitted a report to the district court indicating that at many as 989,000 registered voters in the State of Indiana do not possess a state-issued driver's license or photo identification. Brace's report also concluded that registered voters in groups of citizens with household incomes of less than $15,000 were twice as likely not to possess photo identification as citizens with incomes of more than $55,000.

In a lengthy opinion, U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker decided to grant the defendants' motion for summary judgment . According to Barker, the plaintiffs did “not introduce evidence of a single, individual Indiana resident who will not be able to vote” as a result of the Voter ID Law. She also rejected Brace's report as “utterly incredible and unreliable,” noting that the court lacked “the time and space to discuss the numerous flaws in Brace's report.” Barker estimated that the number of Indiana residents who lacked a state-issued driver's license or identification card at the time of the statute's enactment was around 43,000. Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita, 458 F. Supp. 2d 775 (S.D. Ind. 2006).

The plaintiffs appealed the ruling to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. A divided panel of the appellate court affirmed the trial court's ruling. According to the majority, the absence of any plaintiffs who could claim that the voting law would deter them from voting was telling. The two-judge majority noted that “the motivation for the suit is simply that the law may require the Democratic Party and other organizational plaintiffs to work harder to get every last one of their supporters to the polls.” The lone dissent written by Judge Terence T. Evans referred to the law as “hollow,” concluding that the statute was “a not-too-thinly-veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic.” Crawford v. Marion County Election Bd., 472 F.3d 949 (7th Cir. 2007).

The Supreme Court in 2007 agreed to review the case. At oral arguments, Justice Anthony Kennedy made clear that he did not agree that producing a photo identification card imposed an unacceptable burden on voters. When addressing lawyer Paul M. Smith, Kennedy asked, “You want us to invalidate a statute on the ground that it's a minor inconvenience to a small percentage of voters?” Nevertheless, Kennedy and other justices expressed some concern about the effect that the law has on registered voters who do not have photo identification.

Several Republican-led legislatures have pushed similar laws, stressing that these are necessary to prevent voter fraud. Democrats have countered that the law would have an unfair impact on the poor, elderly, disabled, or urban dwellers. The justices, however, said little about these political undercurrents.

In a 6–3 decision, the Court affirmed the Seventh Circuit's decision. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a plurality opinion that was joined by Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts. Stevens' opinion rejected the argument that the law benefits Republicans more than Democrats, noting that justifications for the law “should not be disregarded simply because partisan interests may have provided one motivation for the votes of individual legislators.” Crawford v. Marion County Election Bd., No. 07-21, 2008 WL 1848103 (April 28, 2008).

Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, concurred with the Court's judgment. Scalia concluded that the law only imposed a minimal burden but that the law was justified. A dissent by Justice David Souter, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, found that the law “threatens to impose nontrivial burdens on the voting rights of tens of thousands of the state's citizens.”

New York State Board of Elections v. Lopez-Torres

State judicial elections have been a part of U.S. politics since the 1820s. Unlike the federal system, where judges are given lifetime appointments, judicial candidates in many states must appear on the ballot if they wish to wear the judicial robe. During the course of U.S. history elected there have been many schemes for selecting and electing judges. New York state has one of the most complicated selection processes in the nation, making it virtually impossible for judicial candidates not endorsed by the Democratic or Republican parties to get on the ballot.

A group of judicial candidates, voters and a nonprofit organization challenged the constitutionality of the New York law, arguing that the scheme violated their political association rights, which are guaranteed by the First Amendments. Though the lower federal courts agreed, the U.S. Supreme Court, in New York State Board of Elections v. Lopez-Torres,—U.S.—, 128 S. Ct. 791, 169 L.Ed.2d 665 (2008), ruled that the New York law was constitutional.

New York state trial judges who work in the state's general jurisdiction trial courts are called “Supreme Court Justices.” In 1921 the New York legislature revamped the electoral process for Supreme Court justices, enacting a three-part scheme that includes a primary election, a nominating convention, and a general election. Justices are elected from New York's 12 judicial districts. In each of the judicial districts are a number of assembly districts. During the first phase the state held a primary election at which rank-and-file party members elected judicial delegates. Judicial candidates needed to assemble a slate of delegates to run on their behalf, so these delegates could vote for their candidates at the judicial nominating convention. Small subgroups of delegates stood for election in each assembly district but before they appeared on the ballot they first circulated petitions within the district. Within 37 days each slate of delegates had to gather 500 valid signatures from party members residing in the assembly district.

Once a delegate slate was approved, it was placed on the primary ballot by the State Board of Elections. However, the ballot did not disclose the name of the judicial candidate that was linked to the delegates. Therefore, a candidate would have to run a voter education campaign in each assembly district. The political parties held their judicial nominating conventions one to two weeks after a slate of delegates was elected. In theory any judicial candidate could lobby the delegates for support but in practice only candidates who had the backing of the party's leadership would be nominated. The nominating conventions rubber-stamped the party candidates. Between 1990 and 2002 over 96 percent of nominations went uncontested and delegate absenteeism was high. The final phase of the process, the general election, was equally an uncontested affair, as one-party rule was the norm in most judicial districts. Between 1990 and

Internet Becomes a Major Medium During 2008 Campaign

R oughly one month after the 1996 presidential election that saw Bill Clinton defeat Bob Dole, the Internet had an estimated 36 million total users, representing 0.9% of the world population. During that campaign, Americans received news about the campaign through the sources that they had for decades—television, newspapers, radio, magazines, and other more traditional media. According to a poll conducted in November 1996, two percent of respondents said that they received news about the campaign through the Internet.

The landscape of presidential campaigns has changed drastically since that time. The number of people indicating that they read campaign news on the Internet jumped to 26 percent in December 2007, according to Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which polled 1,430 individuals as part of its quadrennial survey. Respondents indicated that they relied much less on the other, more traditional sources for this type of information. For example, in a November 1996 poll, sixty percent of respondents said that they obtained their campaign news from newspapers, while only thirty percent said the same in December 2007.

Of course, in a number of instances, web sites serve the same basic function as newspapers, so some of these numbers may merely suggest that the some users prefer the same information in a different format. Thus, the most popular Internet sites for campaign news include MSNBC, CNN, and Yahoo News. Nevertheless, the Pew survey showed that a number of non-traditional sites have also become significant sources for this campaign news. This is especially true of social networking sites, which have exploded in popularity since the last presidential election in 2004.

“Substantial numbers of young people say they have gotten information on the campaign or the candidates from social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook,” the report concluded. “Overall, more than a quarter of those younger than the age of 30 (27%)—including 37% of those ages 18–24—have gotten campaign information from social networking sites. This practice is almost exclusively limited to young people; just 4% of Americans in their 30s, and 1% of those ages 40 and older, have gotten news about the campaign in this way.”

Another major development in the past four years has been the growth of online video sharing sites. The first of these sites was YouTube, which was developed in 2005 and has seen exponential growth since then. In 2006, Senator George Allen (R.-Va.) made an infamous racial slur when he called an Asian member of a competitor's staff a macaca, which translates into monkey. A member of the competitor's staff taped the reference, and the clip appeared on YouTube as well as other sites on the Internet. When Allen lost the 2006 election, many blamed the clip for his downfall.

Like the social networking sites, YouTube became a significant source of information for younger voters in the 2008 campaign. “At a time when a declining number of young people rely in television for most of their news about the campaign, a sizable minority are going online to watch videos of campaign debates, speeches, and commercials,” the report concluded. According to the Pew report, forty-one percent of those polled who are under the age of 30 watched at least one form of campaign video online. Of those ages 30 and older, twenty percent saw at least one of these videos.

In July 2007, Democratic presidential candidates held a debate that was the first of its kind when the debate was limited to questions submitted by YouTube users. Nearly 3,000 users submitted questions in the form of 30-second video clips, and the candidates responded to those questions. The debate was shown live on CNN, which co-sponsored the event. The debate was described as an effort to allow younger, Internet-savvy voters to ask direct questions to the candidates. While some of the users showed their youth—posting rhetorical questions such as “Wassup?”—the issues that that users asked focused on such current events as the Iraq war, gay marriage, health care, and global warming.

Due to the large number of Internet users interested in the 2008 campaign, nearly every candidate focused considerable attention on strategies to reach these potential voters. In fact, the two leading Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, used the Internet to announce their candidacies in 2006. In the recent past, campaigns might have employed someone to run a candidate's website. In 2008, these people have been at the center of the campaign's strategy, earning the nickname “Internet strategists.”

“Four years ago, these people were called webmasters, not campaign strategists,” said Carol Darr of George Washington University's Institute for Politics. “And they were complaining that they didn't have a seat at the table with the senior campaign strategists. Now they're front and center. Half of the articles are about the Internet strategists now.”

The vast majority of the 2008 candidates established public pages, with most using both MySpace and Facebook to spread their messages. As of June 2007, Republican John McCain had more than 35,000 “friends” on his MySpace profile, while other candidates allowed users to peek into the candidates' private lives by sharing, for example, pictures, musical preferences, and habits. One aspect of these social sites in the context of a campaign is that a user can align himself or herself with a candidate or political belief by adding the candidate as a friend on the user's profile.

Although much of the focus of the Internet's audience has been on younger people, Internet users are certainly not limited to the young. An estimated 70 percent of adults in the U.S. use the Internet now, and candidates have used the web during each phase of the various campaigns. Moreover, the Internet allows candidates to develop strategies to target different online audiences.

“[The Internet is] a place for people who tend to be news junkies and political junkies,” Dodd said, noting that the numbers of potential online users continues to grow. “And it's the group of people most likely to volunteer, to donate, to get out and advocate on behalf of campaigns. So it really is this golden group of people [that candidates are trying to reach]. Even though it's small, it's exactly who you want to reach if you're a candidate.”

Candidates also used the Internet for the important function of fund-raising. In 2004, Democratic hopeful Howard Dean relied in the Internet to raise funds. Although more than 60 percent of his donors gave less than $200, Dean nevertheless raised a total of $53 million for his campaign. While Dean was not successful in earning the nomination that year, other hopefuls took note. Democrats in the 2008 campaign have excelled at raising cash through smallscale donations, while Republicans have used email as a form of direct-mail campaigns in an effort to raise funds. Said Darr, “The Internet will allow a candidate to go in a fundraising stance from zero to 60. You could never do that before the Internet.”

2002 almost half of the elections for Supreme Court Justice were uncontested.

Brooklyn Civil Court Judge Margarita Lopez Torres first won election in 1992 but she was repeatedly unsuccessful in gaining support from Democratic officials to run for Supreme Court Justice. In 2004 she and others filed suit, alleging that the law violated her First Amendment political association rights. The federal district court agreed and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling. The state then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court, in a unanimous decision, overruled the Second Circuit. Justice Anthony Scalia, writing for the Court, held that the New York scheme did not violate the First Amendment rights of prospective judicial candidates. He noted that a political party has a First Amendment right to limit its membership as it pleases, and to “choose a candidate-selection process that will in its view produce the nominee who best represents its political platform.” The real claim of Torres was not that she could not vote in the election for delegates or cannot run in that election but that the convention process does not give her “a realistic chance to secure the party's nomination.” None of the Court's election law cases established a constitutional right to have a “fair shot” at the winning the party's nomination. It would be impossible for courts to judge whether a candidate got such a fair shot.

As for the allegation that one-party rule in the judicial districts required the Court to use the First Amendment to “impose additional competition in the nomination-selection process,” Justice Scalia reasoned that as long as candidates have an “adequate opportunity” to

appear on the general-election ballot, the First Amendment was not at issue. New York did allow unsuccessful nominating-convention candidates to collect signatures and appear on the general-election ballot. Scalia concluded that the First Amendment created an open marketplace where political ideas compete. It did not call on the federal courts “to manage the market by preventing too many buyers from settling upon a single product.” Therefore, New York could continue to use the 1921 law.


views updated Jun 27 2018


Whether the subject is political transition in the former Soviet Union, South Africa, Romania, or Iraq, the movement toward democracy has been, and continues to be, symbolized by elections. If "the people" do not have a say in determining who governs, through free and fair elections, one does not recognize that country as a democracy. Elections are so central to this basic idea of democracy that once elections have been adopted, suffrage is generally universal for citizens eighteen and older. This generality holds for countries thought to be more restrictive of civil liberties and civil rights: Iran (a theocracy )—which even drops the age to fifteen—and China (still communist). A few exceptions exist: Felons lose their suffrage in the United States while in prison or on parole, and lose it completely in fourteen states upon conviction. In Guatemala active members of the military are not allowed to vote and must remain inside their barracks on election day. In Kuwait women cannot vote; in Saudi Arabia no one can vote. The larger concern about free and fair elections in many parts of the world derives from unwritten rules or illegal actions that hamper turnout or render electoral results suspicious. These violations include intimidating voting environments, insecure ballot boxes (ballot stuffing), nonsecret voting, threats of retaliation, a lack of independent supervision of polling centers, and government monopoly of the media.

This is not to say that one only encounters elections in democratic systems. Elections have been used by many types of authoritarian or totalitarian regimes to legitimize leaders and systems. In such regimes, this is the only role of elections. Although elections also legitimize nonauthoritarian regimes, they do much more than confer the right to govern. Elections provide the official, universal connection between citizens and their government. They allow citizens the opportunity to provide input into the governing process (a prospective force), and they allow citizens to hold a government accountable for its policies (a retrospective force). Perhaps most important, elections provide for the peaceful, legitimate transfer of power between groups, without which political, social, and economic stability could be threatened. How do elections accomplish these goals in practice?

types of elections

Although a number of variations exist throughout the world on these basic themes, most electoral systems in democratic countries follow the general rules outlined by two approaches: single-member district (SMD) representation or proportional representation (PR). A third approach (e.g., the system in Germany and New Zealand) combines the two (SMD-PR). SMD representation works as follows. A given territory is divided into political pieces, and the number of those pieces is equal to the total number of representatives called for in one of the houses of the legislature. SMD is often used in "lower" houses and other selection measures are often used in "upper" houses (state or regional representation, appointment). In the United States, a bicameral system, the number of political pieces created equals the number of representatives in the House of Representatives. Senate membership is based on geography, with two representatives per state. Elections are held within each piece and one winner is chosen. The winner in SMD systems is often the candidate who receives the most votes (a plurality , not necessarily the majority). For the U.S. House, the representative body is composed of 435 individual winners.

Proportional representation systems differ from SMD systems in two main ways: geographic area of representation and vote choice. Take the same political territory and erase all the dividing lines for the pieces discussed above. One now has a single large area without small subsections; however, more than one representative is wanted. The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, is a good example in this regard because the nation-state of Israel is a single electoral district (with 120 members). When elections are held, the voters choose a preferred party, not a preferred candidate. All the votes are counted (in most PR systems a minimum threshold exists for any party to overcome before it may be counted at all) and the parties are ranked by the percentage of the total vote received. Each party is allowed to translate that percentage of vote received into a percentage of all possible seats in the house/parliament in question. In the Israeli example, a party receiving 20 percent of the vote would send twenty-four representatives to the Knesset. This vote-to-representative translation process continues until 100 percent of the seats are filled. Thus, 120 winners result instead of just one, but these winners did not all win individual contests; each party won something and the individuals sent to the legislature represent that win. Mixed systems (sometimes called personalized proportional systems) combine these two strategies to take advantage of the benefits of both. In the lower house of the German parliament, the Bundestag, about half its members are chosen by SMD and about half by PR.

The advantages of SMD and PR can be summarized as follows. SMD systems connect the voters to representatives who are local, who have traits voters like to evaluate in elections, and who can be held directly responsible for their actions in the legislature. PR systems provide for a wider variety of interests to be represented because there is more than one winner per election; they focus voters' attention on ideas and policies rather than the traits of specific individuals; and they are a more realistic reflection of the distribution of political preferences in a population.

SMD and PR electoral systems do more than give voters different kinds of choices in the voting booth. They also shape the party structure that is likely to emerge once a system is put into place. Two major parties usually dominate SMD systems. When there is only one winner and that winner must win the most votes, few incentives exist for any party representing a small segment of the population to expend the time, energy, and resources to contest an election. If that party is never likely to receive the most votes, it will never claim any share of the representative body. This leads to the formation of two general, or catch-all, parties, both capable of generating support from a broad segment of the population, both capable of winning any given election with the help of a few undecided or independent voters. PR systems have the exact opposite effect on the number of parties participating in elections. With multiple winners, and when winning means getting some percentage of the total popular vote greater than a minimal threshold, parties of all kinds have an incentive to contest elections. Some larger, more general parties form, but many parties stay focused on specific constituencies (like farmers or workers) or issues (like the environment). These are called particularistic parties. The overall result is this: SMD systems lead to middle-of-the-road, or centrist, political parties and political cultures and PR systems tend to lead to a more diversified, or wider, variety of parties and political cultures.

Given these basics, how do these electoral systems affect leadership? Leaders in PR systems are forced to compromise with competing political forces because they often have to govern with a coalition ; that is, two or three parties must band together to gain a functional majority in the legislature, and in parliamentary systems, to select a prime minister. Given the need to satisfy these coalitions, PR leaders are more likely to have a diverse executive branch (or "government") by including members of several parties in the cabinet of ministers. These leaders, then, cannot focus simply on what they want to do; they must balance their constituents ' desires with those of their coalition partners' constituents. This can slow down the legislative process, but the resulting legislation is often more widely accepted among all constituencies. SMD systems promote the opposite: less need to compromise, a more single-minded executive, and more polarized legislation.

PR systems focus elections on ideas, so leadership is more often affected by how citizens assess the successes and failures of the parties in power. A focus on the effectiveness of the coalition encourages voters to think along the lines of maintaining the status quo of the government as a whole or replacing it. SMD systems focus on individuals, so leadership is more often affected by how citizens assess the competence and integrity of their specific representative (that one representative of 435). This parochial perspective downplays the importance of thinking about maintaining or changing the government as a whole. Overall, one finds more frequent change in the leadership structures of PR systems than SMD systems. Stability is the rule of the day, however. The differences in leadership changes between PR and SMD become muted when the fact that most parties in governing coalitions stay in governing coalitions over time is considered. More often a change occurs in the rank order of the top two or three parties rather than the wholesale replacement of all the top parties with a set of all new parties.

Although there are many exceptions to the rule, these different approaches appear to affect voter turnout: It is generally lower in SMD systems than PR systems. Setting aside complicated models, giving people a wider choice of viable parties, connecting a wider variety of voters to their leadership by including more groups in governance, and allowing for the greater possibility of dramatic change in those controlling the levers of government (or promoting the appearance of a greater ability to hold leaders accountable)—these are all factors that seem to strengthen the connection between citizens and leaders. This does not mean political cultures could be changed easily by electoral rules, or that PR is necessarily more democratic or better than SMD, but it should provide some insight into why citizens of some countries interact with their leaders in very different ways than citizens of other countries.

See also: Political Parties; Suffrage.


Almond, Gabriel A., G. Bingham Powell, Jr., and Kaare Strøm, et al. Comparative Politics Today: A World View, 7th ed. New York: Longman, 2003.

Foreign Government Resources on the Web. University of Michigan Documents Center. <http://www.lib.umich.edu/govdocs/foreign.html>.

Sodaro, Michael J. Comparative Politics: A Global Introduction. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2001.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook. Washington, DC: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, 2005. <http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html>.

Bryan Brophy-Baermann


views updated May 14 2018


The processes of voting to decide a public question or to select one person from a designated group to perform certain obligations in a government, corporation, or society.

Wisconsin Right to Life v. Federal Election Commission

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), Pub. L. No. 107-155, 116 Stat. 91 (also known as the McCain-Feingold Act for its bipartisan sponsors), was ostensibly created to assuage the general public's growing wariness and distrust of "special interest groups," in particular, their perceived exertion of influence and control over political election processes. Various provisions of the Act address these and related issues. The Act is enforced by the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Section 203 of the Act prohibits corporations and labor unions from using their corporate or general funds to pay for political "electioneering communications," including certain paid political advertisements. Technically, Section 201 of the BCRA defines "electioneering communications" as any broadcast, cable, or satellite communication that refers to a candidate for federal office and that is broadcast within 30 days of a federal primary election or 60 days of a federal general election in the jurisdiction in which that candidate is running for office. 2 U.S.C. § 434(f)(3). In Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC, 546 U.S. ___; 163 L.Ed.2d 990 (2006), the Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL) challenged the BCRA, as applied to a series of WRTL's political advertisements. The U.S. SUPREME COURT, in a 9-0 per curiam opinion, agreed with the organization. The high court vacated the opinion of the district court dismissing the challenge, then remanded the matter back to that court for consideration on the merits.

Back in July 2004, WRTL paid for and aired a series of television advertisements. These ads encouraged viewers to contact Wisconsin's two Democratic senators (expressly identified by name in the advertisements) for the purpose of urging them to oppose efforts in Congress (mostly by Democrats) to filibuster President George Bush's federal judicial nominees. The advertisements were intended to run for several weeks, up to and including the weeks preceding the November 2004 general elections. One of the senators was running for reelection in November (less than 60 days away).

As a preemptive move, the WRTL sought a preliminary injunction barring the FEC from enforcing the BCRA against the pending television advertisements. Its legal argument urged the court to find the BCRA unconstitutional as applied to the advertisements. The organization did not dispute that the advertisements were covered by the BCRA's definition of prohibited "electioneering communications," which had previously withstood constitutional challenge in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, 124 S.Ct. 619, 157 L.Ed.2d 491, (2003). Instead, the WRTL argued that the BCRA could not be applied to its advertisements because they constituted "grassroots lobbying advertisements" not related to electoral campaigning. The communications merely encouraged citizens to contact Congress to influence legislation, and not to influence the electoral process.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied the motion for preliminary injunction and later dismissed the WTRL's complaint in an unpublished opinion.

The U.S. Supreme Court, noting probable jurisdiction after the D.C. appellate court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction, later issued a short opinion vacating the district court's judgment and instructing it to consider WTRL's arguments on the merits following remand.

The significant holding in the high court's opinion was in noting that the district court had misinterpreted the relevance of (i.e., had incorrectly read) a footnote in McConnell as barring any "as-applied" challenges to the BCRA's prohibition on electioneering communications. Said the Supreme Court in its opinion,

"Contrary to the understanding of the District Court, that footnote merely notes that because we found BCRA's primary definition of 'electioneering communication' facially valid when used with regard to BCRA's disclosure and funding requirements, it was unnecessary to consider the constitutionality of the backup definition Congress provided. Ibid. In upholding § 203 against a facial challenge, we did not purport to resolve future as-applied challenges."

For its part, the FEC argued that the district court had rested its decision on the ground that the facts of this case "suggest that WRTL's advertisements may fit the very type of activity McConnell found Congress had a compelling interest in regulating." But the Supreme Court could not conclude that the district court intended its opinion to also rest on this ground, noting that the district court had used the word "may." Further, the district court had expressly found that WRTL's 'as-applied' challenge to BCRA was foreclosed by the McConnell decision. Therefore, given this ambiguity, the Supreme Court could not now "say with certainty that the District Court's dismissal was based on this alternative ground."


views updated Jun 08 2018

election Process of choosing candidates for office. In the modern world, elections have been inseparable from the rise of democracy. In most countries, age, and residency qualifications govern a person's eligibility to vote; candidates must also meet certain requirements. The maximum period between elections is determined by law or the constitution. The first elections to Parliament in England were held in the 13th century. In the 19th century various reform acts widened the franchise and a secret ballot was introduced in 1872. Under the US Constitution, elections to the House of Representatives are direct or popular, whereas the election of Congress, the President and Vice President, are indirect. Senators are selected by the state legislatures and the President and Vice President by an electoral college of electors chosen by the public. In the US congressional elections are held every two years and presidential elections every four years. Candidates for most state and local offices are nominated in direct primary elections. See also proportional representation