1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Vote and Voting

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VOTE and VOTING. The Latin votum, derived from vovere, to vow, meant a solemn promise, hence a wish, desire or prayer, in which senses the doublet “vow,” derived through French, is used now chiefly. “Vote” is specially employed in the sense of a registering of one's choice in elections or on matters of debate, and the political meaning is the only one which requires comment.

Ancient.—In ancient Greece and Italy the institution of suffrage already existed in a rudimentary form at the outset of the historical period. In the primitive monarchies it was customary for the king to invite pronouncements of his folk on matters in which it was prudent to secure its assent beforehand. In these assemblies the people recorded their opinion by clamouring (a method which survived in Sparta as late as the 4th century B.C.), or by the clashing of spears on shields. This latter practice may be inferred to have obtained originally in Rome, the word suffragium meaning literally a responsive crash. Owing to the lack of routine in the early monarchies and aristocracies of Greece and Italy the vote as yet lacked importance as an instrument of government. But in the days of their full political development the communities of these countries had firmly established the principle of government according to the will of majorities, and their constitutions required almost every important act to be directed by a formal vote. This rule applied equally to the decisions of general assemblies, administrative councils and law courts, and obtained alike in states where suffrage was universal and where it was restricted.

In every case the taking of votes was effected in the form of a poll. The practice of the Athenians, which is shown by inscriptions to have been widely followed in the other states of Greece, was to hold a show of hands (χειροτονία), except on questions affecting the status of individuals: these latter, which included all lawsuits and proposals of ostracism (q.v.), were determined by secret ballot (ψήφισμα, so called from the (ψῆφοι or pebbles with which the votes were cast). At Rome the method which prevailed up to the 2nd century B.C. was that of division (discessio). But the economic and social dependence of many voters on the nobility caused the system of open suffrage to be vitiated by intimidation and corruption. Hence a series of laws enacted between 139 and 107 B.C. prescribed the use of the ballot (“tabella,” a slip of wood coated with wax) for all business done in the assemblies of the people.

For the purpose of carrying resolutions a simple majority of votes was deemed sufficient. Regulations about a quorum seem to have been unusual, though a notable exception occurs in the case of motions for ostracism at Athens. As a general rule equal value was made to attach to each vote; but in the popular assemblies at Rome a system of voting by groups was in force until the middle of the 3rd century B.C. by which the richer classes secured a decisive preponderance (see Comitia).

As compared with modern practice the function of voting was restricted in some notable ways. (1) In the democracies of Greece the use of the lot largely supplanted polling for the election of magistrates: at Athens voting was limited to the choice of officers with special technical qualifications. (2) In accordance with the theory which required residence at the seat of government as a condition of franchise, the suffrage could as a rule only be exercised in the capital town. The only known exception under a centralized government was a short-lived experiment under the emperor Augustus, who arranged for polling stations to be opened at election-time in the country towns of Italy. In federal governments the election of deputies to a central legislature seems to be attested by the practice of the Achaean League, where the federal Council was probably elected in the several constituent towns. But little is known as to ancient methods of electing delegates to representative institutions, and in general it may be said that the function of suffrage in Greece and Italy throws no light upon contemporary problems, such as the use of single-area constituencies and proportional representation.

Modern.—The modern method of obtaining a collective expression of opinion of any body of persons may be either “open” or secret. An open expression of opinion may be by some word of assent or negation, or by some visible sign, as the holding up of a hand. Indeed any method of voting which does not expressly make provision for concealing the identity of the person registering the vote is “open.” Some methods of voting still employed (as in the case of parliamentary elections for some of the English universities, where votes may be sent by post) must necessarily reveal the manner in which the elector has recorded his vote. It is in connexion with the election of members of representative bodies—especially legislative bodies—that the qualifications for and methods of voting become especially important. Practically every civilized country has accepted and put in force some form of representation, which may be defined as the theory and principles on which the obtaining of a vote is founded. These are dealt with in the article Representation, and it will be sufficient to give here the various qualifications which are considered by different countries as sufficient to give effect to the principle of representation and the methods of recording votes. In detail these are given for the United Kingdom and the United States in the articles Registration of Voters and Elections, and for other countries under their respective titles in the sections dealing with the Constitution.

The first consideration is the age at which a person should be qualified for a vote. This in a large number of countries is fixed at the age of manhood, namely, twenty-one years of age, but in Hungary the age is fixed at twenty years, in Austria twenty-four years, while in Belgium, Baden, Bavaria, Hesse, Prussia, Saxony, Japan, the Netherlands and Norway the age is twenty-five years, and in Denmark thirty years. Some countries (e.g. Austria, Germany, France) have adopted the principle of what is often termed “manhood or universal suffrage,” i.e. every male adult, not a criminal or a lunatic, being entitled to a vote, but in all cases some further qualifications than mere manhood are required, as in Austria a year's residence in the place of election, or in France a six months' residence. A common qualification is that the elector should be able to read and write. This is required in Italy and Portugal and some of the smaller European states, in some states of the United States (see Elections) and in many of the South American republics. But the most universal qualification of all is some outward visible sign of a substantial interest in the state. The word “substantial” is used here in a comparative sense, as opposed to that form of suffrage which requires nothing more for its exercise than attainment of manhood and perhaps a certain qualifying period of residence. This tangible sign of interest in the state may take the form of possession of property, however small in amount, or the payment of some amount of direct taxation, indeed in some cases, as will be seen, this is rewarded by the conferring of extra votes.

In the United Kingdom possession of freehold or leasehold property of a certain value or occupation of premises of a certain annual value gives a vote. This qualification of property may be said to be included in what is termed the “lodger” vote, given to the occupier of lodgings of the yearly value unfurnished of not less than £10. In Hungary, the payment of a small direct tax on house property or land or on an income varying with occupation is necessary. So in Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, Hesse, Italy (unless a certain standard in elementary education has been reached), Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal (unless the elector is able to read and write) and Russia. Some of the states in the United States also require the payment of a poll tax. On the other hand, in Russia, students, soldiers, governors of provinces and police officers are disqualified from voting; in Portugal, bankrupts, beggars, domestic servants, workmen in government service and non-commissioned officers are not electors; it must be noted, however, that the government of the new Portuguese republic promised in 1910 a drastic revision of the existing franchise. Italy disfranchises non-commissioned officers and men in the army while under arms, as do France and Brazil. The United Kingdom and Denmark, disqualify those in actual receipt of parish relief, while in Norway, apparently, receipt of parish relief at any time is a disqualification, which, however, may be removed by the recipient paying back the sums so received. In some countries, e.g. Brazil, the suffrage is refused to members of monastic orders, &c., under vows of obedience. Apart from those countries where a modicum of education is necessary as a test of right to the franchise, there are others where education is specially favoured in granting the franchise. In the United Kingdom the members of eight universities (Oxford, Cambridge, London, Dublin University, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and St Andrews) send nine members to parliament; in Hungary members of the professional, scientific, learned and other classes (over 80,000) are entitled to vote without any other qualification; in Brunswick the scientific classes elect three members to the legislative chamber; in Saxony, members of scientific or artistic professions have extra votes; in Italy, members of academies and professors are qualified to vote by their position; while in the Netherlands legal qualifications for any profession or employment give a vote.

Many objections have been urged of late years to the principle of according a plurality of votes to one individual on account of superior qualifications over others which he may be considered to possess. In the United Kingdom, where, roughly speaking, the principle of representation is that of taxation, the possession of qualifying property in any number of electoral districts will give a vote in each of those districts. Whether those votes can be actually registered will of course depend on certain circumstances, such as the distance of the districts apart and whether the elections are held on the same day or not. The Radical party in the United Kingdom have of late years been hostile to any system of plurality of votes (whether gained by educational, property or other qualifications), though it may be said that the tendency of some recent electoral systems has been to introduce a steadying principle of this nature. In 1906 a bill was introduced for reducing the system of plural voting in the United Kingdom; it passed through the House of Commons, but was rejected by the House of Lords. The most remarkable system of plural voting was that introduced in Belgium by the electoral law of 1894. Under it, every citizen over thirty-five years of age with legitimate issue, and paying at least 5 francs a year in house tax, has a supplemental vote, as has every citizen over twenty-five owning immovable property to the value of 2000 francs, or having a corresponding income from such property, or who for two years has derived at least 100 francs a year from Belgian funds either directly or through the savings bank. Two supplementary votes are given to citizens over twenty-five who have received a diploma of higher instruction, or a certificate of higher secondary instruction, or who fill or have filled offices, or engaged in private professional instruction, implying at least average higher instruction. Three votes is the highest number allowed, while failure to vote is punishable as a misdemeanour. In 1908-9 the number of electors in Belgium was 1,651,647, of whom 981,866 had one vote, 378,264 two votes and 291,517 three votes. In some other countries weight is given to special qualifications. In the town of Bremen the government is in the hands of a senate of 16 members and a Convent of Burgesses (Bürgerschaft) of 150 members. These latter are elected by the votes of all the citizens divided into classes. University men return 14 members, merchants 40 members, mechanics and manufacturers 20 members, and the other inhabitants the remainder. So in Brunswick and in Hamburg legislators are returned by voters representing various interests. In Prussia, representatives are chosen by direct electors who in their turn are elected by indirect electors. One direct elector is elected from every complete number of 250 souls. The indirect electors are divided into three classes, the first class comprising those who pay the highest taxes to the amount of one-third of the whole; the second, of those who pay the next highest amount down to the limits of the second third; the third, of all the lowest taxed. In Italy electors must either have attained a certain standard of elementary education, or pay a certain amount of direct taxation, or if peasant farmers pay a certain amount of rent, or if occupants of lodgings, shops, &c., in towns, pay an annual rent according to the population of the commune. In Japan, voters must pay either land tax of a certain amount for not less than a year or direct taxes other than land tax for more than two years. In the Netherlands, householders, or those who have paid the rent of houses or lodgings for a certain period, are qualified for the franchise, as are owners or tenants of boats of not less than 24 tons capacity, as well as those who have been for a certain period in employment with an annual wage of not less than £22, 18s. 4d., have a certificate of state interest of not less than 100 florins or a savings bank deposit of not less than 50 florins.

The method now adopted in most countries of recording votes is that of secret voting or ballot (q.v.). This is carried out sometimes by a machine (see Voting Machines). The method of determining the successful candidate varies greatly in different countries. In the United Kingdom the candidate who obtains a relative majority is elected, i.e. it is necessary only to obtain more votes than any other candidate (see Representation).