Election, the formal process of selecting a person for public office or of accepting or rejecting a political proposition by voting. It is important to distinguish between the form and the substance of elections. In some cases, electoral forms are present but the substance of an election is missing, as when voters do not have a free and genuine choice between at least two alternatives. Most countries hold elections in at least the formal sense, but in many of them the elections are not competitive (e.g., all but one party may be forbidden to contest) or the electoral situation is in other respects highly compromised.
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.
When elections are called, politicians and their supporters attempt to influence policy by competing directly for the votes of constituents in what are called campaigns. Supporters for a campaign can be either formally organized or loosely affiliated, and frequently utilize campaign advertising. It is common for political scientists to attempt to predict elections via Political Forecasting methods.
The most expensive election campaign included US$7 billion spent on the 2012 United States presidential election and is followed by the US$5 billion spent on the 2014 Indian general election
A number of OSCE field operations work in the area of elections and focus on:
- Advising election commissions;
- Application of international standards and good practices;
- Improvement of electoral administration;
- Technical reviews of elections;
- Reform of electoral codes;
- Consultations among stakeholders of the voting process;
- Training, performance reviews and evaluations;
- Supporting and engaging with international networks;
- Strengthening the participation of women in elections;
- Awareness-raising campaigns on voter rights and electoral procedures;
- Supporting NGOs observing local and national polls; and
- Establishing voter lists.