Voting is a group activity that enables participating members to express their preferences or support for certain issues or persons. By counting and tallying votes, group leaders can gauge the popularity of various options. A vote often (though not always) determines the decision in question.
Voting usually occurs at the end of a discussion or debate, in a wide variety of organizations. Small groups and large, including representative boards and wide membership groups, all use voting on a regular basis.
Like polling, voting aims to obtain a sense of the popularity of an option within a group. Unlike opinion polling, voting is usually an official act of the group in question. Still, an informal vote is sometimes referred to as a poll.
In the United States of America, many voters vote at a polling place (or polling station). States and other large organizations also use mail-in ballots and networked computers to register votes as well.
Both opinion polling and voting rely on expressions of individual preference, while chance (or "fate") determines the outcome of superficially similar activities, like the drawing of lots.
Process of voting
Most forms of democracy use a common voting procedure:
- Individual registration and qualification,
- Opening the election for a set time period,
- Registration of voters at established voting locations,
- Distribution of ballots with preset candidates, issues, and choices (including the write-in option in some cases),
- Selection of preferred choices (often in secret, called a secret ballot),
- Secure collection of ballots for unbiased counting,
- Announcement of the winner of the election on the basis of plurality, majority or supermajority support, and
- Proclamation of this result as "the will of the people," or a mandate.
Reasons for voting
In a democracy, voting commonly implies one of three things:
- an election, that is, a way for an electorate to select among candidates for office;
- the process by which citizens approve or disapprove initiatives or referendum; or
- the process of representative deliberative bodies (such as legislatures) to reach group decisions.
Legislatures use voting to select internal leadership as well as enact laws and other official acts. Decisions by executive officials rarely rely on voting, within the parameters spelled out by law, and the management of bureaucracies only occasionally use democratic methods within the group, instead relying on the interpretation of directions given by legislatures and elected officials (though the complexities of modern bureaucracies allow for quite a lot of bureaucracy-generated law, far more than suspected by most citizens).
A vote is an individual's act of voting, by which he or she express support or preference for a certain motion (e.g. a proposed resolution), a certain candidate, or a certain slate of candidates. Most votes use ballots, though voice vote and electronic voting also take place.
The act of voting in most countries is voluntary, however some countries, such as Australia, Belgium and Brazil have compulsory voting systems. Compulsory voting was common in totalitarian societies like the U.S.S.R.
Though voting is usually recognized as one of the main characteristics of democracy, a country's having an election featuring the populace casting votes does not necessarily mean the country is democratic. Many authoritarian and totalitarian governments hold public elections, but with pre-chosen candidates pre-approved by elites, minimal or no competition, and restrictive voter qualifications, many of these elections are more sham than authentic. (Considering that even some of the most democratic of modern states usually offer limited slates of candidates, pre-choose and approve the candidates in advance, and enforce restrictive voter qualifications, the distinction between a sham and an authentic election is often a matter of shades of gray.)
How and why individuals vote in elections has been the focus of much study in political science and economics. Though voting ostensibly gauges actual preference, many voters are influenced to dissemble, adopting strategies that often express values that they would, in other situations, not abide.
For instance, in first-past-the-post elections, expressing preference for a candidate the voter thinks (perhaps erroneously, perhaps correctly) few other voters support would lead to a so-called wasted vote. That's why many voters formally favor candidates that they might otherwise even revile, simply to cast a vote against someone they hold in even greater disfavor.
It has been argued that such instances of preference falsification are inevitable in all attempts to organize large bodies of people, especially through representation. To counteract the worst elements of this, French mathematician Condorcet devised a complicated voting reform, and many reformers today advocate simpler reforms such as Instant Runoff Voting.
Results of Voting
When a vote is held, it must be counted. In a group meeting, voting by "acclamation" can obviate the need for this, but such a method only works in clear cases of overwhelming majority. In small groups where all voters are present (or when those present are regarded as a quorum allowing group activity formally to proceed) the use of a simple show of hands often becomes the dominant form of voting. In government organizations, particularly legislatures, established procedure limits such informal voting. Since representatives are said to represent their home constituencies, recorded votes are required so that the representatives may be judged by their supporters and opponents back home.
When large groups vote, the results of voting can become uncertain and prone to manipulation if great care is not shown. Instances of voter fraud, ballot tampering and the like spot the history of democratic action.
If all goes according to established rules, however, after a vote, the ballots are secured, counted, and the results collated and then announced.
In major elections, one check on possible malfeasance has been the contrast of published local voting results with polling of voters after they've voted.
The primary result of voting, though, is the determination of the issue in question: who has been elected to office, or what measure has been approved or disapproved. In the normal course of events, an election decides the issue in question. But there are exceptions, especially in cases of initiative. Court challenges, often by legislators, sometimes lead to a legal overturn of the collective decision of the voters. And legislators may undermine an initiative vote by enacting other laws, or even outright repeal, depending on the laws of the state in question.
A referendum vote, of course, can itself be an over-ride, so to speak, of a different vote. In a citizen referendum, citizens challenge a law enacted by their representatives and vote to repeal or amend.