History Of Elections

Early Voting in Ancient Greece

Since approximately 508 B.C., Ancient Greece seems to have implemented the earliest form of democracy.  Greeks had a "negative" election -- that is, each year voters, who were the male land owners, were asked to vote for the political leader or "candidates" they most wanted to be exiled for the next ten years.

The early ballot system was voters wrote their choice on broken pieces of pots, ostraka in Greek, and from this name comes our present word to ostracize. If any "candidate" received more than 6,000 votes then the one with the largest number was exiled. If no politician received 6,000 votes then they all remained. Since voters were only male land owners, the number of voters was small. If there was a fairly even spread of votes, no one would be exiled, so usually only very unpopular political leaders were ostracized or exiled.

Today, however, there are few politicians who would survive 6,000 negative votes!

Medieval Venice

During the 13th century, the Venetian state solidified and elected a Great Council comprised of 40 members. The Venetians implemented "approval voting." In this type of election, electors cast one vote for every candidate they found acceptable and none for those they found unacceptable. The winner was the person who was acceptable to the largest number of voters.

Voting Rights

American history is based on ever-increasing rights, including voting rights. The rules that apply to eligible voters has changed dramatically since 1776, when it was pronounced that all men were created equal, but that equality only applied to some. When America was young, only white men over the age of 21 were allowed to vote. However, one of the strengths of our country is our ability to grow, change and adapt.  Following are some of the landmark changes that have taken place since those early years of our new government:

Black Suffrage:

The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution were passed following the Civil War, in the later 1860s. They outlawed slavery and extended civil rights and suffrage (voting rights) to former slaves. The LEGAL right to vote for African-Americans was established, but numerous restrictions kept many blacks from ACTUALLY voting until the 1960s Voting Rights Act.


Direct Election of Senators:

The 17th Amendment made it so U.S. Senators were directly elected by popular vote. Prior to 1913, Senators were appointed. The President, of course, is still not elected by popular vote, but by the Electoral College. For example, in the presidential election of 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote but George Bush won the electoral college vote.

Woman's Suffrage:

The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in 1920. This amendment resulted from an international movement of "Suffragettes." However, around the world women have not always fared as well. Women still lacked the right to vote in Switzerland until the 1970s, and as of 1990 women could not vote in Kuwait. There are many other countries where women and citizens still have not attained the privilege of voting. 

Eighteen Year Old Vote:

In 1971, with the backdrop of the Vietnam War, many U.S. citizens felt that if you were old enough to be drafted into the military to serve your country, then you were certainly old enough to vote. The 26th Amendment was passed and lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.

Voting Systems

Democracy has been carried out in numerous ways internationally. The system in place in the United States is by no means the world standard. In fact from state to state even within the United States, voting systems vary dramatically. However, with the 2000 presidential election, more concern was given on the federal level to the consistent carrying out of election law.

Here are some voting systems you may not be familiar with:
Parliamentary System:
The American voting system elects legislators based on one geographical district, by majority or plurality (whoever gets the most votes in that district wins). The districts are whole states for Senators and parts of states for House members. This is known as the "First-past-the-post" system.

In the parliamentary system, all legislators are elected at-large, meaning from the entire country's electorate. Voters choose one party, and the party's total votes determine how many legislative seats the party gets. The legislators are pre-determined on a list of party candidates. The Prime Minister is the person who is first on the list of the party which got the most votes.

The first-past-the-post system tends towards two parties, as we have in America. The parliamentary system favors multiple parties, since any party getting enough votes for even one seat, gets a voice in Parliament.

Examples of countries who have implemented this system of democracy are England, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Japan, and South Africa, are but a few.

The advantage to this form of governance has to be more accountable than a presidential system, since power is not divided. In this type of system it is easier for voters to tell who is responsible for inaction. However, the main criticisms are that the head of the government cannot be directly voted on or chosen by the people, like in a presidential system, and there is a lack of separation of power.

However, scholars have shown that since World War II, two-thirds of Third World nations have established a parliamentary form of government successfully transitioning to democracy.

Instant Run-off Voting:
I.R.V. is a system intended to help third party participation in a two-party system. Voters choose a first choice, second choice, and third choice. If their first choice loses, their vote transfers to their second choice candidate. For example, in 2000, voters might have voted first for Nader and second for Gore -- allowing more expression of political preferences while eliminating the "spoiler effect."

I.R.V. systems are in effect in several nations abroad, and also in numerous municipal elections in the U.S.

Fusion Voting:
Fusion voting allows candidates to run under several party labels in one election. The largest example is New York State. Candidates often run as both Democrats and Liberal Party nominees; or as Republicans and Right-To-Life Party nominees. Third-party participation is encouraged because voters can choose a person AND a party, since the person's name appears once under each party. Much negotiation occurs to get the third-party nominations by major-party candidates, which is absent in states without fusion voting.
Voting Equipment:
Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to address issues echoed nationally. Now voters have the right to cast a provisional ballot if their status is disputed; and people with the same names as felons are not routinely removed from voting rolls.