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An election is a formal process of selecting a person for public office or accepting or rejecting a political proposition by voting. Hawkesworth & Kogan (2004) thus says that elections provide a legitimate means of making political choices and therefore for an election to be effective voters should have a free and genuine choice between at least alternatives. An election is considered to be formal in most of the world’s political systems but studies show that only a third of these elections do more or less competitive contests (Hawkesworth & Kogan, 2004). This means that only a few of these elections are considered legitimate. Lack of competitive contests results from practices such as deliberate gerrymandering of constituency boundaries, voter intimidation and manipulation of vote counts. Research also shows that less competitive elections may result from restricted to one party election.

The use of elections in the modern world originated from the gradual emergence of representative government in Europe and North America in the 17th century. Hawkesworth & Kogan indicated “that there are several types of elections which are considered as political means of recruitment because they facilitate the legitimate selection of public office holders” (2004 p. 399). Elections act as a means of granting officials the authority to make public policy decisions and on top of that they legitimize those decisions. Hawkesworth & Kogan (2004) thus say that “any electoral mandate resulting from such a process does not entail the implementation of the abstract preferences of the majority of citizens but rather the introduction of the policy of those leaders who come to power” (p. 399).

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It should be noted that most officeholder elections are interpretable only in terms of the role of political parties in the political process. Hawkesworth & Kogan (2004) found out that since elections seek to fix individual responsibility and accountability for the actions of modern governments, political parties, rather than individual representatives have become the vehicles of democratic accountability. Hawkesworth & Kogan (2004) also indicated that elections found throughout the democratic world include referenda and initiatives, which are considered to be elections in which the preferences of the community regarding particular issues are assessed. Referenda are instigated by those in government while initiatives are initiated by groups of electors.

Hawkesworth & Kogan (2004) says that “referenda usually concern the raising and spending f public money although they are occasionally used to decide major constitutional issues which are deemed to require the express consent of the people, or moral issues in which the elected bodies are deemed to posses no competence” (p. 400). Elections carried out in form of referenda may be legislatively binding or merely consultative. On the other hand consultative referenda are likely to have the force of legislative mandates. Elections of the form of referenda and initiatives are most heavily used at national level in Italy and Switzerland and in other areas in a variety of countries at sub-national level, such as USA and Germany (Hawkesworth & Kogan, 2004).   

Around the world electoral systems can be classified into three broad categories which include majoritarian (plurality), proportional and semi-proportional. Hawkesworth & Kogan (2004) says that plurality is the simplest system for counting and converting votes into representative office. During the elections in plurality a candidate needs only more poll votes than any other single opponent. Hawkesworth & Kogan (2004) says that under the majority rule the party or candidate gaining more that fifty per cent of the vote in a constituency wins. They also said that neither the majority nor the plurality formulas distribute legislative seats in proportion to the share of the popular vote won by the competing parties during the elections. This also implies that these elections systems reward the strongest party disproportionately compared to the weaker parties (Hawkesworth & Kogan, 2004).

Medvic (2009) in his studies indicated that elections serve at least four functions in a democracy choosing public officials, ensuring accountability, influencing the direction of policy and granting legitimacy to the government. Firstly Medvic says that elections are a mechanism of determining who will hold public office (2009). This means that those who will represent the citizenry are chosen directly by voters. Medvic (2009) says that it also implies “that votes are cast for candidates contending for an office and the winner or winners in multimember districts are chosen based on a predetermined formula” (p. 12).

Elections are used to allow voters to choose the candidates who will run for various offices. According to Medvic (2009) party nominees in general elections are often chosen in primary elections, or primaries, which vary significantly in terms of who may participate but offer some level of input into party business by rank and file members. Elections can be used to remove an individual from public office before the end of his or hr term depending on the rules governing the electoral body and the country as a whole.

The second use of elections is that they are used to hold elected officials accountable for their actions in office. Medvic (2009) says that “whether one believes in the trustee model of representation which maintains that representatives should act on behalf of their constituents, everyone agrees that representatives may not always act exactly as their constituents expect them to” (p. 12). Voters in this context give elected officials some leeway. Voters have the opportunity to remove their representative   from office when they are particularly troubled by the officeholder’s decisions or personal behavior (Medvic 2009).

The third function of elections is to give the people some say over the policy direction of their country, state, city, or other unit of government. Medvic (2009) says that this takes place in two basic forms one which is considered weak and the other considered strong. He continues to say that in its weak form the policy directing role for elections is accomplished by encouraging elected officials to be responsive to the public. As a result Medvic (2009) mentions that with an election looming or having just occurred representatives are keen to show how they are responding to citizen’s wishes. Through this process it is expected that voters are able to influence the actions of the elected officials.

Elections behavior has become a major mainstream component of contemporary political science.  This has been driven by some factors such as the intellectual fashion in favor of the New Institutionalism which emerged in the late 1980’s (Hawkesworth & Kogan, 2004). Another influence of the current trends in elections is the wide spread desire for the transparency and also the regulation of all aspects of electoral competition in order to remove the potentially delegitimizing effects of corruption (Hawkesworth & Kogan, 2004). Elections are being changed by the technological developments which lie at the root of partisan de-alignment which is central to changing the styles of political communication and virtually ensure that changes after the elections are irreversible (Hawkesworth & Kogan, 2004).

Research shows that in democracy proportional representation requires that the distribution of offices be broadly proportional to the distribution of the popular vote among competing political parties. Hawkesworth & Kogan (2004) found out that “this type of election seeks to overcome the disproportionalities hat result from majority and plurality formulas and to create a representative that result the distribution of opinion within the electorate” (p. 401). Proportional elections outcomes achieve more autonomy than plurality or majority systems.    

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