An election is a formal group decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office. Elections have been the usual mechanism by which modern representative democracy has operated since the 17th century. Elections may fill offices in the legislature, sometimes in the executive and judiciary, and for regional and local government. This process is also used in many other private and business organizations, from clubs to voluntary associations and corporations.
An election is a way people can choose their candidate or their preferences in a representative democracy or other form of government.
Most democratic countries hold new elections for their national legislature every few years. In a parliamentary system, the legislature chooses the leaders of the government. Some democracies elect other national officials (such as a president). Many democratic countries also have regional, provincial or state elections.
There are different ways to organize an election in different countries. Voters might vote for an individual, or they might vote for a political party. This is because different countries use different voting systems.
Countries that are not democracies can also hold elections. This is usually done to let the people choose a local representative (like a mayor). Also many countries call themselves democracies, but behind the scenes have a more autocratic form of government.
Election is very important to keep a democratic country functioning as it gives people the right to select their own government.
The universal use of elections as a tool for selecting representatives in modern representative democracies is in contrast with the practice in the democratic archetype, ancient Athens, where the Elections were considered an oligarchic institution and most political offices were filled using sortition, also known as allotment, by which officeholders were chosen by lot.
Electoral reform describes the process of introducing fair electoral systems where they are not in place, or improving the fairness or effectiveness of existing systems. Psephology is the study of results and other statistics relating to elections (especially with a view to predicting future results).
To elect means “to choose or make a decision”, and so sometimes other forms of ballot such as referendums are referred to as elections, especially in the United States.
Elections were used as early in history as ancient Greece and ancient Rome, and throughout the Medieval period to select rulers such as the Holy Roman Emperor (see imperial election) and the pope (see papal election).
In Vedic period of India, the Raja (chiefs) of a gana (a tribal organization) was apparently elected by the gana. The Raja belonged to the noble Kshatriya varna (warrior class), and was typically a son of the previous Raja. However, the gana members had the final say in his elections. Even during the Sangam Period, people elected their representatives by casting their votes and the ballot boxes (Usually a pot) were tied by rope and sealed. After the election the votes were taken out and counted.
The Pala King Gopala (ruled c. 750s–770s CE) in early medieval Bengal was elected by a group of feudal chieftains. Such elections were quite common in contemporary societies of the region. In the Chola Empire, around 920 CE, in Uthiramerur (in present-day Tamil Nadu), palm leaves were used for selecting the village committee members. The leaves, with candidate names written on them, were put inside a mud pot. To select the committee members, a young boy was asked to take out as many leaves as the number of positions available. This was known as the Kudavolai system.
The modern “election”, which consists of public elections of government officials, didn’t emerge until the beginning of the 17th century when the idea of representative government took hold in North America and Europe.