Elections in the past
Elections were employed in ancient Athens, Rome, and to choose popes and Holy Roman emperors, but it was the gradual growth of representative government in Europe and North America starting in the 17th century that gave rise to elections as we know them today. At that time, the Middle Ages’ distinctively holistic theory of representation gave way to a more individualised one that made the person the primary unit of measurement. For instance, the British Parliament came to be considered as standing for real people rather than just estates, businesses, and vested interests.A direct result of this individualistic conception of representation was the movement to abolish the so-called “rotten boroughs,” which were small electoral districts controlled by a single person or family, which culminated in the Reform Act of 1832 (one of three significant Reform Bills in Britain’s 19th century that increased the size of the electorate). It remained to be decided exactly who was to be included among the governed whose consent was necessary once governments were understood to derive their powers from the consent of the governed and expected to seek that approval on a frequent basis. It remained to be determined precisely who was to be included among the governed whose consent was necessary once governments were considered to derive their powers from the consent of the governed and expected to seek that assent on a regular basis. Universal adult suffrage was favoured by proponents of complete democracy. By 1920, adult male suffrage was nearly universally guaranteed across western Europe and North America; however, woman suffrage was not established until relatively later (e.g., 1928 in Britain, 1944 in France, 1949 in Belgium, and 1971 in Switzerland).
Despite the fact that universal suffrage is often associated with democracy and that competitive elections under it are one of its defining features, universal suffrage is not a need for competitive electoral politics. An electorate may be constrained by statutory constraints, as it was before to the enactment of the universal adult suffrage, or it may be constrained by citizens’ failure to exercise their right to vote. A significant portion of voters do not cast ballots in many nations with open elections. For instance, less than 50% of voters often participate in elections in Switzerland and the United States. Although exclusion, whether legal or self-imposed, can have a significant impact on public policy and even call into question the legitimacy of a government, it does not impede decision-making by election, provided that voters are given real options to select from. In the 18th century, participation in elections was mostly governed by regional norms and agreements, and entry to the political arena rested heavily on aristocratic membership. The vote remained a tool of political power held by a very small number of people, despite the fact that both the American and French revolutions nominally declared all citizens to be equal.