Expression of opinion by ballot
, show of hands, or other means. In systems that use direct vote, the plebiscite
are fundamental mechanisms. In parliamentary elections the results can be calculated in a number of ways. The main electoral systems are:
or first past the post
, with single-member constituencies (USA, UK, India, Canada); absolute majority
, achieved for example by the alternative vote
, where the voter, in single-member constituencies, chooses a candidate by marking preferences (Australia), or by the second ballot
, where, if a clear decision is not reached immediately, a second ballot is held (France, Egypt); proportional representation
, achieved for example by the party list
system (Israel, most countries of Western Europe, and several in South America), the additional member
system or AMS (Germany), the single transferable vote
(Ireland and Malta), and the limited vote
(Japan's upper house and Liechtenstein). Revised voting systems were adopted by Italy and New Zealand in 1993, in which both houses were elected by a combination of simple majority voting and proportional representation on the AMS model. In Japan AMS was adopted for the lower house in 1994.
In one-party states some degree of choice may be exercised by voting for particular candidates within the party list. In some countries where there are problems of literacy or differing local languages, pictorial party emblems may be printed on the ballot paper instead of the names of candidates. The absence of accurate registers in some countries can encourage plural voting, so electors may be marked on the hand with temporarily-indelible ink after they have voted.
The qualifications for voting were liberalized during the 20th century. New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote, in 1893, and, among economically-advanced states, Switzerland was one of the last in 1971, with Liechtenstein in 1984. The minimum age for voting has also been reduced over the years. The age of 18 has now been adopted by most countries, but a few have adopted an even lower figure. The age qualification in Iran for presidential elections is 15.
In the USA the voting age is 18. Conditions of residence vary from state to state and registration is required before election day. Until declared illegal in 1965, literacy tests or a poll tax
were often used to prevent black people from voting in the South. Voter registration and turnout in the USA remains the lowest in the industrialized world. In 1988, 37% of potential voters failed to register and barely 50% bothered to vote in the presidential election, so that George Bush became president with the support of only 27% of the people. In 1996 turnout fell to a record low of 49%. The two major parties are the only effective political organizations, and the candidate receiving the greater number of votes wins. Critics contend that this deprives the losing side of a voice, although calls for proportional voting have never gained much support.
© RM 2014. Helicon Publishing is division of RM.