Elections are defined as the act of electing candidates to represent the people of a given country in the parliament, the executive and possibly into other arms of government as stipulated in the constitution of that particular country. For example in U.S.A. Judges of the lower courts are elected.
FUNCTIONS OF ELECTION
- Change of government: Elections make it easier for the people to remove a bad government from office.
- Election of representatives: It gives elected representatives the legitimate right to rule.
- Free choice of leaders: The people have the free choice of electing leaders into different political offices.
- It ensures control and accountability: Election provides the means of ensuring control and accountability of those who have been elected.
- It fosters democracy: It creates the avenue for people to participate in the decision making of their country.
- To educate the electorate: People receive citizenship education and are also educated about their political rights.
- Legitimacy: Election confers legitimacy on the elected government in power.
- Used as a measurement: Results of elections can be used to measure the opinions of the people on issues of national importance.
- Competition: Election promotes competition among the political parties and even candidates. Competition is healthy and it may make for efficiency.
- Equality of votes: Election enhances equality of votes of citizens. It is a case of one man, one vote.
- Type of policies: An election makes it possible for people to decide the type of policies that should be adopted by government through party manifestoes.
- Integration: Election integrates various ethnic and political groups.
Demerits of Election
- Elections make for antagonistic groups: Elections can divide the country into antagonistic groups with different camps opposing one another.
- Disunity: Division of the country for election purposes or people belonging to different political parties can cause disunity in the country.
- Wastage of funds: A lot of money, materials, etc, are wasted conducting elections into different political offices.
- Election rigging: Rigging may enthrone people of dubious intentions into government.
- Uneven development: The party in government may decide not to assist areas that did not vote or support them during elections. This can result in uneven development of the country.
- Best materials may not be involved in the administration: They may withdraw from taking part in elections, as a result of thuggery, intimidations, victimization, etc, that characterize elections.
- Marginalisation: Elections may still marginalise some groups in the society. This may cause disaffection in the political system.
TYPES OF ELECTIONS
- Direct Election.
- Indirect Election.
- Run-off election or Second Ballot.
- Primary election.
Direct elections involve the electorate (voters) casting their votes directly in an election for candidates of their choice that will represent them either in the executive or legislature, without any interference.
Merits of Direct Election
- Restoration of voters’ rights: The rights of the electors are restored in voting for the all right candidate of their choice.
- It is democratic: It affords mass participation in political decision making of the country.
- Equality of votes: One man, one vote as applies.It gives the electorate equality of votes in the system.
- Popular choice: Direct elections reflect popular choice of the people.
- It enhances dedication and hardwork: Most of the candidates work very hard to defeat their political opponents in the election.
- It creates the opportunity for people: To know the prospective representatives, aspiring to represent their interest in government.
- It is simple to operate: Direct elections are simple and can easily be adopted in many countries of the world.
Demerits of Direct Election
- Illiteracy: Those who cannot read or write usually vote wrongly or blindly because they cannot identify party symbols and names.
- Problems of rigging: Direct elections are generally characterized by malpractices. Result may at times be falsified to favour a particular candidate.
- Corrupt electoral officers: Some electoral officers connive with politicians to ensure the success of a particular party or candidate.
- Poor turn out: Poor turn out of voters is usually not a true reflection of the number of those who registered.
- Inadequate security at polling stations: In most cases, many polling stations lack adequate security and this can lead to intimidation and harrassment of voters by thugs and other miscreants.
- Thuggery and intimidation: It can encourage violence, victimization of political opponents, etc.
TYPES OF VOTING
Direct elections could be by public voting or secret balloting. Any of the voting methods, may be used in electing political leaders in a country.
Secret balloting: Voters cast their votes secretly. The voter alone makes the decision in the voting exercise. In this election, ballot papers inscribing the names of the parties and symbols, ballot box, envelope (may or may not be used), ink pad, etc, are some of the materials needed for secret voting. Also, a presiding officer, polling clerk and polling orderly are the electoral officials in charge of a polling station. There are also security agents (the police) and party agents.
Merits of secret balloting
- It is democratic: Secret voting preserves the rights of the voter. He makes the decision alone without coercion.
- It is universal: It is more of a universal kind of voting than the public voting (open balloting).
- Sense of direction: It gives the voter a sense of direction in deciding whom to vote for.
- Free from intimidation: The voter is free from intimidation, harrassment from his landlord, employer, etc.
- Freedom of choice: It gives the voter freedom to decide for a candidate of his choice.
- It gives satisfaction: The voter is satisfied with the confidence that he has exercised his franchise.
- It gives the voter: A sense of belonging to the political process.
Demerits of Secret Balloting
- It is difficult to comprehend: This type or system is difficult because of the tedious process the voter has to go through before voting.
- Illiteracy: The illiterate ones can vote blindly because they cannot read or write.
- It is time consuming: Many people might decide not to vote because it’s time consuming.
- Costly to operate: The cost involved in the production of the materials needed for the election may be so high.
- Public Voting: It is the type of voting that is done openly or publicly. The voters will have to line up according to their political parties and the counting of the voters is done by the presiding officer before everybody present. The results are declared on the spot.Nigeria has tried this system in the past.
Merits of Public Voting
- Simple to operate: The voting exercise is very simple to operate.
- Less costly: It is less costly to operate. Not as costly as secret ballot.
- Public responsibility: As voting is a public responsibility, its exercise should also be public.
- Suffrage is a trust: Suffrage is a trust. Every eligible adult is entitled to vote during an election.
- Sufficient enlightenment: Ifa community is adequately enlightened and members are courageous enough to withstand improper pressure, public voting should be desirable.
- It reduces electoral malpractices: This is possibly reduced because the materials that can enhance electoral malpractices are not in place e.g. ballot box, ballot papers, etc.
- Immediate release of results: The voters are counted on the spot and the results declared before everybody.
In this system, the electorate (Voters) elect the members of parliament (law-makers) and they the law-makers will have to vote on behalf of the people to elect the president i.e. the head of state of the country.
This system was used in the first Republic to elect the first President of Nigeria – 1963/ 66. Nnamdi Azikiwe was the first President of Nigeria.
However, this system is mostly operational in parliamentary system of government. Great Britain is a good example.
Demerits of public voting
- Coercion of the voters: The voter may be compelled to vote for a particular person, whose pressure he may not be able to withstand.
- Pressures from government: Government can exert pressure upon the electorate to vote for government officials.
- Landlords and employers: They can equally exert pressure on those who are more or less subject to their control.
- Voters are exposed to intimidation, harrassment, etc, and as such many may keep away from voting.
- It is crude: Open ballot is seen as crude and uncivilised. It is unacceptable to modern political system.
- It can induce violence: Those not satisfied with the outcome of the result, may go on rampage and destruction of lives and property could result from the process.
- Manipulation of the results: Electoral officials could still manipulate the results of the election, by declaration of false figures.
Merits of Indirect Election
- Best qualified to vote: The legislators form an electoral college in indirect election. The possible advantage is that members of the college are seen as best qualified to elect leaders.
- Less violent: Indirect election produces less violence than direct election.
- They are well informed: Members of the electoral college have the opportunity of examining the candidates before the voting.
- Rigging: The opportunity of rigging is partially absent. It may or may not be there.
- Less costly: Indirect election is not as costly as direct election.
Demerits of Indirect Election
- Undemocratic: The electorates are not directly involved in the final choice of their representatives.
- No room for wider political participation: Indirect election system does not offer wider political participation in the state.
- Bribery and corruption: It promotes bribery and corruption and manipulation of delegates.
- People’s will maybe jeopardized: Final result may not reflect the will of the people.
- Denial of the people’s popular sovereignty: The system denies the people of the popular sovereignty. The electorate have the ultimate power to elect candidates of their choice.
- Violation of the principle of one man, one vote: Indirect election violates the democratic principle of one man one vote.
- Discontent: it may breed discontent and political instability in the system.
- Political apathy: The people may be apathetic to vote in subsequent elections.
- Imposition: The final political office holders voted in by the representatives seem to be an imposition on the people.
- Corrupt electoral officials: There is the possibility of the electoral officials getting involved in some corrupt practices during the process of election.
This is a group or body of elected representatives who in turn come together to elect people into political offices.
It is also a group of people who are chosen to represent the members of a political party in the election of a leader. The Americans elect their President through Electoral College.
Merits of Electoral College
- Electoral malpractices: This is minimised because only a few people vote.
- Short period of voting: Voting could be done and completed within a very short period and on time too.
- Easy and proper identification of candidates: The candidates are easily identified and properly known to the voters.
- Clear cut winner: The system produces a winner easily because the candidate scores with a simple majority.
- Less costly: The system is not costly but simple to operate.
Demerits of Electoral College
- People’s right of choice are denied them: This is because, they did not take part in the second election.
- Wrong Candidate: The system might not produce the right candidate.
- Bribery and corruption: It can lead to bribery and corruption and which will influence the outcome of the election.
- The legislators do not possess enviable qualities: The legislators, forming the body called electoral college, portray themselves as a body possessing enviable and distinct qualities for electing candidates, whereas, they may not be.
OTHER TERMS ASSOCIATED WITH ELECTION
- By-Election: This is an election that takes place to fill a vacant elective post as a result of dis-qualification, resignation or death of the individual holding that office. The election takes place in that constituency, where there has been a vacancy. Therefore, only the registered voters in the constituency are allowed to vote.
- Run-Off Election or Second Ballot: When none of the candidates wins the election by absolute majority in a general election, another election would be conducted. In this final election, only the candidates with the highest votes are allowed to contest.
- Primary Election: This involves the political parties presenting candidates for any election in a country. It is an election conducted within a political party to choose credible candidate(s) that can adequately represent the interests of the party in any election.
- Referendum: This is a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote of the people particularly on law in a given political system. Referendum ensures that laws not in conformity with the popular will are not passed. This is a useful check on the powers of the legislature.
- Plebiscite: This is also a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote of the people, especially on issues of national importance referred to them.It can also be on some relevant public or political question like the issues of minorities in a political set up.
- The Process of Recall: It means the “calling back” of elected lawmakers, executive officers or judges before the expiration of the period for which they were elected. Following immediately is the election of others to fill the places left vacant. This system is common in most American states.
FREE AND FAIR ELECTION
Free and fair election, is an election conducted according to the principles and rules of democracy. This simply means that, the people ofa given country must be free, without coercion, to elect their leaders under a condition that is most favourable and conducive. In addition, every section of the country must be fully represented in the legislature.
CONDITIONS NECESSARY FOR THE CONDUCT OF A FREE AND FAIR ELECTION
- Divided into constituencies: The country must be divided into constituencies based on population with regards to the number of people needed to constitute the parliament.
- Preparation of voters register: Only qualified citizens should be registered and allowed to vote.
- Secret balloting: Voting should be done secretly, so as, to give the voters the freedom, to vote for candidates of their choice. The principle of one man, one vote, must be respected.
- Intimidation of voters: Voters should not be intimidated at the polls. They should be free to exercise their franchise.
- Impartiality of electoral officers: They should not collaborate either with the government or any political party to jeopardize free and fair voting.
- Independence of electoral commission: Government should not interfere with the conduct of the elections.
- Counting of votes: Votes must be counted under strict supervision to avoid rigging of elections. Results must be declared immediately after count.
- Opportunity to campaign: Candidates must be given adequate time and opportunity to campaign and present their manifestos to the electorate.
- Access to court: An aggrieved candidate should have access to a court of law to challenge the result of the election.
- Political education of the electorate: The electorate should be educated on their rights and how to identify party symbols and the proper manner of voting.
- Voting by proxy: There should be no voting by proxy, that is, voting on behalf of another person. Also, there should be no double registration.
- Training of officials and provision of election materials: Electoral officials should be given adequate and sufficient training and enough materials needed for every election.
- Revision of voters’ register: This is necessary before any election. This is to make enough room for claims and objections.
Electoral commission is a body responsible for organising and conducting elections in a political system. It can also be seen as an independent and impartial body responsible for conducting and organising all elections in a given country. It has a chairman as the head and other members of the commission. In Nigeria, for example FEDECO was the commission responsible for 1979/83 Second Republic elections, NEC was responsible for the conduct of Third Republic’s election which was aborted while INEC conducted the 1998/99 general elections for the Fourth Republic.
FEATURES OF AN ELECTORAL COMMISSION
- Organising and conducting elections: It is a body responsible for organising and conducting all elections in a political system. Free and fair elections: The commission is responsible for the conduct of free and fair elections in a country.
- Announcement of election results: It has the sole power of announcing election results.
- Independent body: It is an independent and impartial electoral body.
- Controlled and headed by a chairman: The commission is controlled by the chairman while other members are appointed.
- Fixed tenure of office: The members of this commission have a fixed tenure of office.
- Resident commissioner: There are resident commissioners for each states of the federation.
- A neutral body: It is a neutral body and should be non-partisan in outlook.
- It is guided by the constitution: This commission has the backing of the law in all its dispensation and actions.
- Honesty and fairplay: The commission should be honest and just in its decision making especially with the conduct of the elections.
FUNCTIONS OF ELECTORAL COMMISSION
- Registration of parties: It registers political parties according to laid down rules and regulations.
- Free and fair elections: The electoral commission has the sole power to organise and conduct free and fair elections in a country.
- Registration of voters: Eligible voters are registered by the commission.
- Provision of electoral materials: This body has to provide all the necessary materials needed for any election for example ballot boxes, ballot papers, polling boots, etc.
- Delimitation (division) of the country: It divides the country into constituencies or electoral districts.
- Appointment and training: It does the appointment and training of electoral officers, for instance presiding officers, clerks and polling orderlies.
- Counting of votes: The commission is responsible for the counting of votes and releasing the result of each election conducted.
- Financial grants to parties: The commission gives financial grants to political parties.
- Enlightenment: The commission educates the electorate about the necessary issues involved in elections.
- Types of voting: It informs the people the type of voting to be conducted either secret or open (public) voting.
- Screening of candidates: Candidates for election are properly screened and their eligibility ascertained before any election.
- Security at the polling stations: Adequate security are provided at the polling stations by the commission.