1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Election

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ELECTION (from Lat. eligere, to pick out), the method by which a choice or selection is made by a constituent body (the electors or electorate) of some person to fill a certain office or dignity. The procedure itself is called an election. Election, as a special form of selection, is naturally a loose term covering many subjects; but except in the theological sense (the doctrine of election), as employed by Calvin and others, for the choice by God of His “elect,” the legal sense (see Election, in law, below), and occasionally as a synonym for personal choice (one’s own “election”), it is confined to the selection by the preponderating vote of some properly constituted body of electors of one of two or more candidates, sometimes for admission only to some private social position (as in a club), but more particularly in connexion with public representative positions in political government. It is thus distinguished from arbitrary methods of appointment, either where the right of nominating rests in an individual, or where pure chance (such as selection by lot) dictates the result. The part played by different forms of election in history is alluded to in numerous articles in this work, dealing with various countries and various subjects. It is only necessary here to consider certain important features in the elections, as ordinarily understood, namely, the exercise of the right of voting for political and municipal offices in the United Kingdom and America. See also the articles Parliament; Representation; Voting; Ballot, &c., and United States: Political Institutions. For practical details as to the conduct of political elections in England reference must be made to the various text-books on the subject; the candidate and his election agent require to be on their guard against any false step which might invalidate his return.

Law in the United Kingdom.—Considerable alterations have been made in recent years in the law of Great Britain and Ireland relating to the procedure at parliamentary and municipal elections, and to election petitions.

As regards parliamentary elections (which may be either the “general election,” after a dissolution of parliament, or “by-elections,” when casual vacancies occur during its continuance), the most important of the amending statutes is the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act 1883. This act, and the Parliamentary Elections Act 1868, as amended by it, and other enactments dealing with corrupt practices, are temporary acts requiring annual renewal. As regards municipal elections, the Corrupt Practices (Municipal Elections) Act 1872 has been repealed by the Municipal Corporations Act 1882 for England, and by the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 for Ireland. The governing enactments for England are now the Municipal Corporations Act 1882, part iv., and the Municipal Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Act 1884, the latter annually renewable. The provisions of these enactments have been applied with necessary modifications to municipal and other local government elections in Ireland by orders of the Irish Local Government Board made under powers conferred by the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898. In Scotland the law regulating municipal and other local government elections is now to be found in the Elections (Scotland) (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Act 1890.

The alterations in the law have been in the direction of greater strictness in regard to the conduct of elections, and increased control in the public interest over the proceedings on election petitions. Various acts and payments which were previously lawful in the absence of any corrupt bargain or motive are now altogether forbidden under the name of “illegal practices” as distinguished from “corrupt practices.” Failure on the part of a parliamentary candidate or his election agent to comply with the requirements of the law in any particular is sufficient to invalidate the return (see the articles Bribery and Corrupt Practices). Certain relaxations are, however, allowed in consideration of the difficulty of absolutely avoiding all deviation from the strict rules laid down. Thus, where the judges who try an election petition report that there has been treating, undue influence, or any illegal practice by the candidate or his election agent, but that it was trivial, unimportant and of a limited character, and contrary to the orders and without the sanction or connivance of the candidate or his election agent, and that the candidate and his election agent took all reasonable means for preventing corrupt and illegal practices, and that the election was otherwise free from such practices on their part, the election will not be avoided. The court has also the power to relieve from the consequences of certain innocent contraventions of the law caused by inadvertence or miscalculation.

The inquiry into a disputed parliamentary election was formerly conducted before a committee of the House of Commons, chosen as nearly as possible from both sides of the House for that particular business. The decisions of these tribunals laboured under the suspicion of being prompted by party feeling, and by an act of 1868 the jurisdiction was finally transferred to judges of the High Court, notwithstanding the general unwillingness of the bench to accept a class of business which they feared might bring their integrity into dispute. Section 11 of the act ordered, inter alia, that the trial of every election petition shall be conducted before a puisne judge of one of the common law courts at Westminster and Dublin; that the said courts shall each select a judge to be placed on the rota for the trial of election petitions; that the said judges shall try petitions standing for trial according to seniority or otherwise, as they may agree; that the trial shall take place in the county or borough to which the petition refers, unless the court should think it desirable to hold it elsewhere. The judge shall determine “whether the member whose return is complained of, or any and what other person, was duly returned and elected, or whether the election was void,” and shall certify his determination to the speaker. When corrupt practices have been charged the judge shall also report (1) whether any such practice has been committed by or with the knowledge or consent of any candidate, and the nature thereof; (2) the names of persons proved to have been guilty of any corrupt practice; and (3) whether corrupt practices have extensively prevailed at the election. Questions of law were to be referred to the decision of the court of common pleas. On the abolition of that court by the Judicature Act 1873, the jurisdiction was transferred to the common pleas division, and again on the abolition of that division was transferred to the king’s bench division, Election petitions. in whom it is now vested. The rota of judges for the trial of election petitions is also supplied by the king’s bench division. The trial now takes place before two judges instead of one; and, when necessary, the number of judges on the rota may be increased. Both the judges who try a petition are to sign the certificates to be made to the speaker. If they differ as to the validity of a return, they are to state such difference in their certificate, and the return is to be held good; if they differ as to a report on any other matter, they are to certify their difference and make no report on such matter. The director of public prosecutions attends the trial personally or by representative. It is his duty to watch the proceedings in the public interest, to issue summonses to witnesses whose evidence is desired by the court, and to prosecute before the election court or elsewhere those persons whom he thinks to have been guilty of corrupt or illegal practices at the election in question. If an application is made for leave to withdraw a petition, copies of the affidavits in support are to be delivered to him; and he is entitled to be heard and to call evidence in opposition to such application. Witnesses are not excused from answering criminating questions; but their evidence cannot be used against them in any proceedings except criminal proceedings for perjury in respect of that evidence. If a witness answers truly all questions which he is required by the court to answer, he is entitled to receive a certificate of indemnity, which will save him from all proceedings for any offence under the Corrupt Practices Acts committed by him before the date of the certificate at or in relation to the election, except proceedings to enforce any incapacity incurred by such offence. An application for leave to withdraw a petition must be supported by affidavits from all the parties to the petition and their solicitors, and by the election agents of all of the parties who were candidates at the election. Each of these affidavits is to state that to the best of the deponent’s knowledge and belief there has been no agreement and no terms or undertaking made or entered into as to the withdrawal, or, if any agreement has been made, shall state its terms. The applicant and his solicitor are also to state in their affidavits the grounds on which the petition is sought to be withdrawn. If any person makes an agreement for the withdrawal of a petition in consideration of a money payment, or of the promise that the seat shall be vacated or another petition withdrawn, or omits to state in his affidavit that he has made an agreement, lawful or unlawful, for the withdrawal, he is guilty of an indictable misdemeanour. The report of the judges to the speaker is to contain particulars as to illegal practices similar to those previously required as to corrupt practices; and they are to report further whether any candidate has been guilty by his agents of an illegal practice, and whether certificates of indemnity have been given to persons reported guilty of corrupt or illegal practices.

The Corrupt Practices Acts apply, with necessary variations in details, to parliamentary elections in Scotland and Ireland.

The amendments in the law as to municipal elections are generally similar to those which have been made in parliamentary election law. The procedure on trial of petitions is substantially the same, and wherever no other provision is made by the acts or rules the procedure on the trial of parliamentary election petitions is to be followed. Petitions against municipal elections were dealt with in 35 & 36 Vict. c. 60. The election judges appoint a number of barristers, not exceeding five, as commissioners to try such petitions. No barrister can be appointed who is of less than fifteen years’ standing, or a member of parliament, or holder of any office of profit (other than that of recorder) under the crown; nor can any barrister try a petition in any borough in which he is recorder or in which he resides, or which is included in his circuit. The barrister sits without a jury. The provisions are generally similar to those relating to parliamentary elections. The petition may allege that the election was avoided as to the borough or ward on the ground of general bribery, &c., or that the election of the person petitioned against was avoided by corrupt practices, or by personal disqualification, or that he had not the majority of lawful votes. The commissioner who tries a petition sends to the High Court a certificate of the result, together with reports as to corrupt and illegal practices, &c., similar to those made to the speaker by the judges who try a parliamentary election petition. The Municipal Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Act 1884 applied to school board elections subject to certain variations, and has been extended by the Local Government Act 1888 to county council elections, and by the Local Government Act 1894 to elections by parochial electors. The law in Scotland is on the same lines, and extends to all non-parliamentary elections, and, as has been stated, the English statutes have been applied with adaptations to all municipal and local government elections in Ireland.

United States.—Elections are much more frequent in the United States than they are in Great Britain, and they are also more complicated. The terms of elective officers are shorter; and as there are also more offices to be filled, the number of persons to be voted for is necessarily much greater. In the year of a presidential election the citizen may be called upon to vote at one time for all of the following: (1) National candidates—president and vice-president (indirectly through the electoral college) and members of the House of Representatives; (2) state candidates—governor, members of the state legislature, attorney-general, treasurer, &c.; (3) county candidates—sheriff, county judges, district attorney, &c.; (4) municipal or town candidates—mayor, aldermen, selectmen, &c. The number of persons actually voted for may therefore be ten or a dozen, or it may be many more. In addition, the citizen is often called upon to vote yea or nay on questions such as amendments to the state constitutions, granting of licences, and approval or disapproval of new municipal undertakings. As there may be, and generally is, more than one candidate for each office, and as all elections are now, and have been for many years, conducted by ballot, the total number of names to appear on the ballot may be one hundred or may be several hundred. These names are arranged in different ways, according to the laws of the different states. Under the Massachusetts law, which is considered the best by reformers, the names of candidates for each office are arranged alphabetically on a “blanket” ballot, as it is called from its size, and the elector places a mark opposite the names of such candidates as he may wish to vote for. Other states, New York for example, have the blanket system, but the names of the candidates are arranged in party columns. Still other states allow the grouping on one ballot of all the candidates of a single party, and there would be therefore as many separate ballots in such states as there were parties in the field.

The qualifications for voting, while varying in the different states in details, are in their main features the same throughout the Union. A residence in the state is required of from three months to two years. Residence is also necessary, but for a shorter period, in the county, city or town, or voting precinct. A few states require the payment of a poll tax. Some require that the voter shall be able to read and understand the Constitution. This latter qualification has been introduced into several of the Southern states, partly at least to disqualify the ignorant coloured voters. In all, or practically all, the states idiots, convicts and the insane are disqualified; in some states paupers; in some of the Western states the Chinese. In some states women are allowed to vote on certain questions, or for the candidates for certain offices, especially school officials; and in four of the Western states women have the same rights of suffrage as men. The number of those who are qualified to vote, but do not avail themselves of the right, varies greatly in the different states and according to the interest taken in the election. As a general rule, but subject to exceptions, the national elections call out the largest number, the state elections next, and the local elections the smallest number of voters. In an exciting national election between 80 and 90% of the qualified voters actually vote, a proportion considerably greater than in Great Britain or Germany.

The tendency of recent years has been towards a decrease both in the number and in the frequency of elections. A president and vice-president are voted for every fourth year, in the years divisible by four, on the first Tuesday following the first Monday of November. Members of the national House of Representatives are chosen for two years on the even-numbered years. State and local elections take place in accordance with state laws, and may or may not be on the same day as the national elections. Originally the rule was for the states to hold annual elections; in fact, so strongly did the feeling prevail of the need in a democratic country for frequent elections, that the maxim “where annual elections end, tyranny begins,” became a political proverb. But opinion gradually changed even in the older or Eastern states, and in 1909 Massachusetts and Rhode Island were the only states in the Union holding annual elections for governor and both houses of the state legislature. In the Western states especially state officers are chosen for longer terms—in the case of the governor often for four years—and the number of elections has correspondingly decreased. Another cause of the decrease in the number of elections is the growing practice of holding all the elections of any year on one and the same day. Before the Civil War Pennsylvania held its state elections several months before the national elections. Ohio and Indiana, until 1885 and 1881 respectively, held their state elections early in October. Maine, Vermont and Arkansas keep to September. The selection of one day in the year for all elections held in that year has resulted in a considerable decrease in the total number.

Another tendency of recent years, but not so pronounced, is to hold local elections in what is known as the “off” year; that is, on the odd-numbered year, when no national election is held. The object of this reform is to encourage independent voting. The average American citizen is only too prone to carry his national political predilections into local elections, and to vote for the local nominees of his party, without regard to the question of fitness of candidates and the fundamental difference of issues involved. This tendency to vote the entire party ticket is the more pronounced because under the system of voting in use in many of the states all the candidates of the party are arranged on one ticket, and it is much easier to vote a straight or unaltered ticket than to change or “scratch” it. Again, the voter, especially the ignorant one, refrains from scratching his ticket, lest in some way he should fail to comply with the technicalities of the law and his vote be lost. On the other hand, if local elections are held on the “off” or odd year, and there be no national or state candidates, the voter feels much more free to select only those candidates whom he considers best qualified for the various offices.

On the important question of the purity of elections it is difficult to speak with precision. In many of the states, especially those with an enlightened public spirit, such as most of the New England states and many of the North-Western, the elections are fairly conducted, there being no intimidation at all, little or no bribery, and an honest count. It can safely be said that through the Union as a whole the tendency of recent years has been decidedly towards greater honesty of elections. This is owing to a number of causes: (1) The selection of a single day for all elections, and the consequent immense number voting on that day. Some years ago, when for instance the Ohio and Indiana elections were held a few weeks before the general election, each party strained every nerve to carry them, for the sake of prestige and the influence on other states. In fact, presidential elections were often felt to turn on the result in these early voting states, and the party managers were none too scrupulous in the means employed to carry them. Bribery has decreased in such states since the change of election day to that of the rest of the country. (2) The enactment in most of the states of the Australian or secret ballot (q.v.) laws. These have led to the secrecy of the ballot, and hence to a greater or less extent have prevented intimidation and bribery. (3) Educational or other such test, more particularly in the Southern states, the object of which is to exclude the coloured, and especially the ignorant coloured, voters from the polls. In those southern states in which the coloured vote was large, and still more in those in which it was the majority, it was felt among the whites that intimidation or ballot-box stuffing was justified by the necessity of white supremacy. With the elimination of the coloured vote by educational or other tests the honesty of elections has increased. (4) The enactment of new and more stringent registration laws. Under these laws only those persons are allowed to vote whose names have been placed on the rolls a certain number of days or months before election. These rolls are open to public inspection, and the names may be challenged at the polls, and “colonization” or repeating is therefore almost impossible. (5) The reform of the civil service and the gradual elimination of the vicious principle of “to the victors belong the spoils.” With the reform of the civil service elections become less a scramble for office and more a contest of political or economic principle. They bring into the field, therefore, a better class of candidates. (6) The enactment in a number of states of various other laws for the prevention of corrupt practices, for the publication of campaign expenses, and for the prohibition of party workers from coming within a certain specified distance of the polls. In the state of Massachusetts, for instance, an act passed in 1892, and subsequently amended, provides that political committees shall file a full statement, duly sworn to, of all campaign expenditures made by them. The act applies to all public elections except that of town officers, and also covers nominations by caucuses and conventions as well. Apart from his personal expenses such as postage, travelling expenses, &c., a candidate is prohibited from spending anything himself to promote either his nomination or his election, but he is allowed to contribute to the treasury of the political committee. The law places no limit on the amount that these committees may spend. The reform sought by the law is thorough publicity, and not only are details of receipts and expenditures to be published, but the names of contributors and the amount of their contributions. In the state of New York the act which seeks to prevent corrupt practices relies in like manner on the efficacy of publicity, but it is less effective than the Massachusetts law in that it provides simply for the filing by the candidates themselves of sworn statements of their own expenses. There is nothing to prevent their contributing to political committees, and the financial methods and the amounts expended by such committees are not made public. But behind all these causes that have led to more honest elections lies the still greater one of a healthier public spirit. In the reaction following the Civil War all reforms halted. In recent years, however, a new and healthier interest has sprung up in things political; and one result of this improved civic spirit is seen in the various laws for purification of elections. It may now be safely affirmed that in the majority of states the elections are honestly conducted; that intimidation, bribery, stuffing of the ballot boxes or other forms of corruption, when they exist, are owing in large measure to temporary or local causes; and that the tendency of recent years has been towards a decrease in all forms of corruption.

The expenses connected with elections, such as the renting and preparing of the polling-places, the payment of the clerks and other officers who conduct the elections and count the vote, are borne by the community. A candidate therefore is not, as far as the law is concerned, liable to any expense whatever. As a matter of fact he does commonly contribute to the party treasury, though in the case of certain candidates, particularly those for the presidency and for judicial offices, financial contributions are not general. The amount of a candidate’s contribution varies greatly, according to the office sought, the state in which he lives, and his private wealth. On one occasion, in a district in New York, a candidate for Congress is credibly believed to have spent at one election $50,000. On the other hand, in a Congressional election in a certain district in Massachusetts, the only expenditure of one of the candidates was for the two-cent stamp placed on his letter of acceptance. No estimate of the average amount expended can be made. It is, however, the conclusion of Mr Bryce, in his American Commonwealth, that as a rule a seat in Congress costs the candidate less than a seat for a county division in the House of Commons. (See also Ballot.)