Definitions and Characteristics of Election


Definitions and Characteristics of Election

The central concern of this article is to acquaint the student with the concept of election and some other basic issues that surround it. The post is divided into meanings and characteristics. Under meanings we examine some definitions of the concept in order to provide you with broad views. Under the characteristics we discuss the political circumstances and situations that can produce elections

Table of Content

You should be able to do the following at the end of this post:

1. Have an adequate insight into the meaning of elections

2. Have good knowledge of the kind of political process used in election


Definitions of Elections

Although elections are fundamental and very common in modern political discourse and there is hardly any dispute about their meaning, they have, like many other social science concepts, been discussed from several perspectives. In what follows we consider some of the definitions

A good one to begin with is the definition by R. Dowse and J. Hughes (1972) who assert that “Elections are one type of social mechanism, amongst others, for aggregating preferences of a particular kind. An election is, therefore, a procedure recognized by the rules of an organization, be it a state, a club, a voluntary organization or whatever, where all, or some, of the members choose a smaller number of persons to hold an office, or offices, of authority within that organization’'.

By analysis, this definition assumes that every political organization is democratic, and goes through the mechanism of elections in arriving at the smaller number of leaders that hold her offices. It is quite easy to describe this definition as impressionistic and hastily generalizing, considering the fact that it was given in 1972 when only about forty two percent of world’s nations were democratic and produced their leaders through elections.

Ball, A. (1977) can be accused of similar thing based on his definition that “elections are the means by which the people choose and exercise some degree of control over their representatives”. This simply suggests that wherever people are chosen to lead other people, the mechanism used is election.

5 Main Characteristics of Elections

It is quite important for the behavioral scientist to clarify that to the extent that there are many forms of political system, ranging from monarchy, to totalitarianism, election is not, and cannot be the only way of choosing political leaders. The work however, is made easier as it limits the scope of elections to government at the level of the state.

We shall discuss the circumstances of election in government in the following part.

1. Electoral System: Elections often hold under clearly defined electoral system.

2. Suffrage: The electorate does not generally include the entire population; for example, many countries prohibit those judged mentally incompetent from voting, and all jurisdictions require a minimum age for voting. While in Nigeria the voting age is 18, in other countries it is sixteen.

2. Used in Democracy: Because democracy is often regarded as government of the people by the people and for the people, election is often the main mechanism used to endure that leadership is arrived at based on the wish of the people. Under democracy, election often means majority, mostly in number and sometimes in agreed forms of representation. In democratic systems, elections are based on certain electoral systems that are products of the evolution and history of the society. In the electoral system voting pattern, vote counting and winner declaration are the main issue. While we can have major electoral systems as proportional and majoritarian, other ones include party-list proportional representation, additional member system, First Past the Post (otherwise called relative majority) and absolute majority.

4. Used in Constitutional Monarchy: Elections are also used in constitutional monarchies where leadership is not arrived at through voting, but heredity, but, at the same time, operations of leaders are subjected to certain constitutional provisions. Elections in this type of political arrangement may not therefore necessarily follow any of the identified electoral systems

5. Periodicity: Elections come periodically. While in certain countries they are held every four years as in the United States and Nigeria, other countries use five or six years. Nigeria at present is proposing six years single term for political office holders. Whatever it is, the period of elections is often also contained in a government’s constitution.

Read On: Definitions and Forms of Political Culture

Conclusion on Definitions and Top Main Characteristics of Election

Whichever way it is defined, what is certain is that elections are the means by which a wider body of persons chooses a smaller group of representatives to undertake specified tasks, and though it takes place in a wide array of human organizations governmental and non-governmental, elections are used mainly in democratic system and constitutional democracies. It also has certain characteristics, some of which are suffrage and electoral system.

We have discussed the concept of elections, highlighted some definitions and restricted our scope to the governmental aspect. We also identified certain characteristics and conditions under which elections operate.

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