An election is a decision-making process by which people vote for their preferred candidates or political parties to represent them in government. This is the common mechanism used in modern democracy to elect the representatives and deputies of a legislative body, the head of the executive as well as local and regional rulers. This process, however, is also used in the selection of various positions in private and public organizations, clubs, voluntary associations and other corporations.
The universal acceptance of elections as a tool for selecting representatives in modern democracies is distinguished from the archetypal Athenian democratic practice in which elections were an oligarchic institution. Since the 20th century, in most states, suffrage has been a universal right for all men and women who are citizens.
The term "electoral reform" designates the process of establishing democratic and fair electoral systems, if none exist, or of improving their transparency and efficiency.
The democratic elections
In political theory, the authority of democratic governments emanates exclusively from the approval of the governed people. The primary mechanism for translating this approval into governmental authority is free and legitimate elections. There is an almost universal consensus on the characteristics of a free and legitimate election. Jean Kirkpatrick, an academic and United States ambassador to the United Nations, offered the following definition: "Democratic elections are not merely symbolic...they are competitive, periodic, inclusive, and definitive in which the individuals charged with making the A government's decisions are selected by citizens who enjoy a wide freedom to criticize the government, to publish their criticisms and to present alternatives."
Another definition, from Democracy Watch (Observació Democràcia) says that free and democratic elections are: "elections in which great care is taken to prevent any kind of explicit or hidden bias towards any candidate other than the benevolent biases that arise naturally natural form of an electorate that has been fairly informed about the various advantages and disadvantages of each candidate."
This requirement, of a fully informed electorate, is difficult to achieve in modern democracies with millions of potential voters, most of whom cannot know the candidate except through commercial information and propaganda.
Features of the elections
Voters and candidates
Who can vote (suffrage) is a matter of great importance in elections. The electorate (set of voters) often does not include the entire population; for example, many countries do not allow people with mental disabilities to vote, and others require a minimum voting age.
However, historically, other groups of people have been excluded from the electoral process. For example, in the Athenian democracy, women, foreigners, and slaves were not allowed to vote, and the original U.S. constitution gave the right to vote only to white property-owning citizens. This situation has changed over time, with activist groups promoting the suffrage of the excluded. At present, in most Western states, suffrage is a universal right.
In some states (such as Belgium, Australia, Argentina and Chile, among others), voting is required by law; the elector who does not vote in the election may receive small penalties or even be imprisoned. In other states (such as Mexico) voting is a moral prerogative (right and obligation) under the constitution, but there are no penalties for violators. In Spain, suffrage is only a right, but not an obligation.
Most states establish