What is Election?

Legal Definition
An election is a formal decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office. Elections have been the usual mechanism by which modern representative democracy has operated since the 17th century. Elections may fill offices in the legislature, sometimes in the executive and judiciary, and for regional and local government. This process is also used in many other private and business organizations, from clubs to voluntary associations and corporations.

The universal use of elections as a tool for selecting representatives in modern representative democracies is in contrast with the practice in the democratic archetype, ancient Athens, where the Elections were considered an oligarchic institution and most political offices were filled using sortition, also known as allotment, by which officeholders were chosen by lot.

Electoral reform describes the process of introducing fair electoral systems where they are not in place, or improving the fairness or effectiveness of existing systems. Psephology is the study of results and other statistics relating to elections (especially with a view to predicting future results).

To elect means "to choose or make a decision", and so sometimes other forms of ballot such as referendums are referred to as elections, especially in the United States.
-- Wikipedia
Legal Definition
Citizens make choices by voting in elections. Two types of elections exist: general elections and special elections. A general election occurs at a regularly scheduled interval as mandated by law. A special election would be held when something arises that does not arise on a regular basis or routine. For instance, if an elected-office suddenly becomes vacant or a legislature wants to put a referendum before the voters, then they can use a special election.

The electoral process ensures that no leader can take control for an extended amount of time without forcing the elected-official to answer to the will of the people. Nevertheless, government must play an active role in structuring elections and the electoral process. Consequently, individual states carry out the electoral process by following their own state laws. Sections 2 and 4 of Article I of the U.S. Constitution provide states the right to choose their own Representatives and Senators for the United States Congress. The 17th Amendment, however, mandates that the people directly elect the senators, and explicitly bars state legislatures from choosing the state's U.S. Senators.
Presidential Elections: The Electoral College
In Presidential elections, the people of the respective states vote for a Presidential candidate by choosing that candidate's slate of Electors. See Section 1 of Article II of the U.S. Constitution. After the state's citizens have chosen a slate of Electors, the Electors then formally elect the President and Vice-President by casting their respective votes. When all states' slates of Electors arrive to cast their votes, the aggregate group makes up that which has come to be known as "the Electoral College."

The Office of the Federal Register coordinates the Electoral College. Comprised of 538 Electors, the number of total votes equals the aggregate number of Representatives and Senators that currently make up Congress. The number of Electors in a given state's slate equals its number of U.S. Representatives plus two. The number of Representatives that a state has is determined by considering the state's population in proportion to all other states. Accordingly, each state receives a proportional number of Representatives. The government takes the national census every ten years to determine each state's population. When this occurs, a state potentially can gain or lose Congressmen, which affect the number of Electors, known as electoral votes, that the state will have at the Electoral College.

Of the 50 states, forty-eight have a "winner-take-all" system. Washington D.C. follows the same system. A winner-take-all system assigns that state's entire slate of Electors to the candidate who won the popular vote, regardless of how close the popular vote in the state actually was. Maine and Nebraska use different systems in which they divide their states into districts and assign one electoral vote per district. The Presidential candidate who wins a particular district receives that district's electoral vote. Under this system, Maine and Nebraska could potentially split their electoral votes between candidates, although no Presidential election has ever witnessed either state splitting. No federal law exists that binds Electors to vote for a certain candidate. However, twenty-six states have developed laws for this purpose. After each state has submitted their Electors' votes, the votes are counted and a President and Vice-President are named. Usually, the Electoral College emerges with a winner identical to the U.S. popular vote. However, in 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000, the Electoral College winner lost the popular vote.
Congressional Elections
States may individually decide how to carry out their elections for Representatives, Senators and electors. Each state differs in structure, with most assigning administrative offices the task of running elections. States also differ on rules concerning when, where and how citizens may vote (see Congressional Districts). While the people of the respective states have always directly elected Representatives, most individual state legislatures chose the U.S. Senators that would represent that state until the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913. A product of the Progressive Era's call for more democracy, the 17th Amendment gave citizens more influence over the federal government.
Changes in Election Law
While Amendments to the U.S. Constitution are rare, seven of the twenty-seven Amendments that have passed deal with altering the process of electing the United States Federal Government. The 12th Amendment clarifies that each Elector of the Electoral College must cast two votes - one for President and one for Vice President. The 15th Amendment disallows abridging the right to vote on the basis of race, and the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote. The 17th Amendment gives the people the right to directly elect their U.S. Senators. The 23rd Amendment granted electoral votes to Washington D.C. The 24th Amendment eliminated Poll Taxes, and the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18.

In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act protecting minorities' voting rights. Recently-passed federal statutes have created a means for military personnel and overseas citizens to vote and have aided the elderly and disabled citizens' ability to vote. In 1993 Congress passed the "motor voter" law, which enables citizens to register to vote when they apply for driver's licenses.

Some states have recently begun adopting voter identification laws as well in an effort to combat voter fraud. These laws require voters to present identification when they arrive at the polling location to vote. Many felt that Indiana had the most stringent requirement because it required voters to present photo identification. Because some felt that the statute disproportionately burdened the elderly and the minorities, the statute was challenged and went before the U.S. Supreme Court in Crawford v. Marion (07-21). The Supreme Court, however, upheld the law.
Campaign Reform
In 1971 Congress passed the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) to closely regulate federal elections. The law increased necessary disclosure of federal campaign contributions and created the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) to administer federal elections. In 1979 the FEC permitted political parties to spend unlimited amounts of hard money on certain activities, and soft money went unregulated by the FEC. Hard money refers to funding donated directly to a campaign or political party, whereas soft money refers to funding contributed to organizations, often known as 527s, that advocate issues and indirectly advocate a candidate, without specifically advocating for the election or defeat of a particular candidate.

Following the law's passage, the U.S. Supreme Court took up the law's constitutionality in Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1(1976), a landmark decision concerning the interplay between campaign regulations and First Amendment rights. In Buckley the Supreme Court ruled that the FEC could regulate and limit donations to campaigns but could not cap the amount of money that a political campaign could spend because doing so violates the First Amendment. Buckley also held that the FEC could not constitutionally regulate soft money.

Over the next three decades, concerns with the increasing costs of conducting a political campaign did not subside, and the popularity of soft money drove much of this concern. In accordance with this concern, Congress passed the McCain-Feingold (Bipartisan Campaign Reform) Act of 2002 (BCRA). The BCRA amended the FECA to add a provision, which disallowed federal candidates from using corporate and union funding to launch television ads on satellite or cable within 30 days of a primary and 60 days of a general election. A second amendment prohibited candidates and political parties at both the national and state levels from spending soft money on federal elections.

Immediately after the President signed the law, members of the U.S. Congress challenged the law's constitutionality before the U.S. Supreme Court. In Randall v. Sorrell, 548 U.S. 230 (2006).

Then, in 2007 the Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life. 551 U.S. ___. As it applied to Wisconsin Right to Life, the Court struck down the portion of the BCRA that prohibited organizations from running issue ads within a certain number of days of the election because the provision restricted political speech and therefore violated the First Amendment rights of the organization.

The Supreme Court also expounded on the BCRA's provision known as "the Millionaire's Amendment" in the 2008 case of Davis v. FEC (07-320). The Millionaire's Amendment only affected candidates who had spent in excess of $350,000 in personal funds on their own campaign. The BCRA permitted the opponents of these candidates to receive triple the amount of personal contributions typically allowed and permitted the opponents to accept coordinated party contributions without limit, but the BCRA held self-financing candidates to the normal limit. Finding that the provision burdened free speech and associational rights, the Supreme Court struck down the provision as well. The combination of Davis and Wisconsin Right to Life leaves the BCRA in serious limbo.

For more information, see LII's Backgrounder on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act Cases.
Legal Definition
This term, in its most usual acceptation, signifies the choice which several persons collectively make of a person to fill an office or place. In another sense, it means the choice which is made by a person having the right, of selecting one of two alternative contracts or rights. Elections, then, are of men or things.

2. - §1. Of men. These are either public elections, or elections by companies or corporations.

3. - 1. Public elections. These should be free and uninfluenced either by hope or fear. They are, therefore, generally made by ballot, except those by persons in their representative capacities, which are viva voce. And to render this freedom as perfect as possible, electors are generally exempted from arrest in all cases, except treason, felony, or breach of the peace, during their attendance on election, and in going to and returning from them. And provisions are made by law, in several states, to prevent the interference or appearance of the military on the election ground.

4. One of the cardinal principles on the subject of elections is, that the person who receives a majority or plurality of votes is the person elected. Generally a plurality of the votes of the electors present is sufficient; but in some states a majority of all the votes is required. Each elector has one vote.

5. - 2. Elections by corporations or companies are made by the members, in such a way its their respective constitutions or charters direct. It is usual in these cases to vote a greater or lesser number of votes in proportion as the voter has a greater or less amount of the stock of the company or corporation, if such corporation or company be a pecuniary institution. And the members are frequently permitted to vote by proxy. See 7 John. 287; 9 John. 147; 5 Cowen, 426; 7 Cowen, 153; 8 Cowen, 387; 6 Wend. 509; 1 Wend. 98.

6. - §2. The election of things. 1. In contracts, when a; debtor is obliged, in an alternative obligation, to do one of two things, as to pay one hundred dollars or deliver one hundred bushels of wheat, he has the choice to do the one or the other, until the time of payment; he has not the choice, however, to pay a part in each. Poth. Obl. part 2, c. 3, art. 6, No. 247; ll John. 59. Or, if a man sell or agree to deliver one of two articles, as a horse or an ox, he has the election till the time of delivery; it being a rule that "in case an election be given of two several things, always be, which is the first agent, and which ought to do the first act, shall have the election." Co. Litt. 145, a; 7 John. 465; 2 Bibb, R. 171. On the failure of the person who has the right to make his election in proper time, the right passes to the opposite party. Co. Litt. 145, a; Viner, Abr. Election, B, C; Poth. Obl. No. 247; Bac. Ab. h. t. B; 1 Desaus. 460; Hopk. R. 337. It is a maxim of law, that an election once made and pleaded, the party is concluded, electio semel facta, et placitum testatum, non patitur regress-um. Co. Litt. 146; 11 John. 241.

7.-2. Courts of equity have adopted the principle, that a person shall not be permitted to claim under any instrument, whether it be a deed or will, without giving full effect to it, in every respect, so far as such person is concerned. This doctrine is called into exercise when a testator gives what does not belong to him, but to some other person, and gives, to that person some estate of his own; by virtue of which gift a condition is implied, either that he shall part with his own estate or shall not take the bounty. 9 Ves. 515; 10 Ves. 609; 13 Ves. 220. In such a case, equity will not allow the first legatee to, insist upon that by which he would deprive another legatee under the same will of the benefit to which he would be entitled, if the first legatee permited the whole will to operate, and therefore compels him to make his election between his right independent of the will, and the benefit under it. This principle of equity does not give the disappointed legatee the right to detain the thing itself, but gives a right to compensation out of something else. 2 Rop. Leg. 378, c. 23, s. 1. In order to impose upon a party, claiming under a will, the obligation of making an election, the intention of the testator must be expressed, or clearly implied in the will itself, in two respects; first, to dispose of that which is not his own; and, secondly, that the person taking the benefit under the will should, take under the condition of giving effect thereto. 6 Dow. P. C. 179; 13 Ves. 174; 15 Ves. 390; 1 Bro. C. C. 492;3 Bro. C. C. 255; 3 P. Wms. 315; 1 Ves. jr. 172, 335; S. C. 2 Ves. jr. 367, 371; 3 Ves. jr. 65; Amb. 433; 3 Bro. P. C. by Toml. 277; 1 B. & Beat. 1; 1 McClel. R. 424, 489, 541. See, generally, on this doctrine, Roper's Legacies, c. 23; and the learned notes of Mr. Swanston to the case Dillon v. Parker, 1 Swanst. R. 394, >

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n; 3 Desaus. R. 504; 8 Leigh, R. 389; Jacob, R. 505; 1 Clark & Fin. 303; 1 Sim. R. 105; 13 Price, R. 607; 1 McClel. R. 439; 1 Y. & C. 66; 2 Story, Eq. Jur. §1075 to 1135; Domat, Lois Civ. liv. 4, tit. 2, §3, art. 3, 4, 5; Poth. Pand. lib. 30, t. 1, n. 125; Inst. 2, 20, 4; Dig. 30, 1, 89, 7.

8. There are many other cases where a party may be compelled to make an election, which it does not fall within the plan of this work to consider. The reader will easily inform himself by examining the works above referred to.

9. - 3. The law frequently gives several forms of action to the injured party, to enable him to recover his rights. To make a proper election of the proper remedy is of great importance. To enable the practitioner to make the best election, Mr. Chitty, in his valuable Treatise on Pleadings, p. 207, et seq., has very ably examined the subject, and given rules for forming a correct judgment; as his work is in the hands of every member of the profession, a reference to it here is all that is deemed necessary to say on this subject. See also, Hammond on Parties to Actions; Brown's Practical Treatise on Actions at Law, in the 45th vol. of the Law Library; U. S. Dig. Actions IV.
-- Bouviers Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
The act of choosing or selecting one or more from a greater number of persons, things, courses or rights. The choice of an alternative. State v. Tucker, 54 Ala. 210. The internal, free, and spontaneous separation of one thing from another, without compulsion, consisting in intention and with Dyer, 281.

The selection of one man from among several candidates to discharge certain duties in a state, corporation, or society. Maynard v. District Canvassers, 84 Mich. 228, 47 N. W. 756, 11 In R. A. 332; Brown v. Phillips, 71 Wis. 239, 36 N. W. 242; Wickersham v. Brittan, 93 Cal. 34, 28 Pan. 792, 15 In R. A. 106.

The choice which is open to a debtor who is bound in an alternative obligation to select either one of the alternatives. In equity. The obligation imposed upon a party to choose between two inconsistent or alternative rights or claims, in cases where there is clear intention of the person from whom he derives one that he should not enjoy both. 2 Story, Eq. Jur. § 1075; Bliss v. Geer, 7 III. App. 617; Norwood v. Lassiter, 132 N. C. 52, 43 S. E. 509; Salen-tine v. Insurance Co.., 79 Wis. 580, 48 N. W. 855, 12 In R. A. 690.

The doctrine of election presupposes a plurality of gifts or rights, with an intention, express or implied, of the party who has a right to control one or bath, that one should be a substitute for the other. 1 Swanst. 394, note b; 3 Wood. Leet 491; 2 Rop. Leg. 480-578.

In practice. The liberty of choosing (or the act of choosing) one out of several means afforded by law for the redress of an injury, or one out of several avaUable forms of action. Almy v. Harris, 5 Johns. (N. Y.) 175 In criminal law. The choice, by the prosecution, upon which of several counts in an indictment (charging distinct offenses of the same degree, but not parts of a continuous series of acts) it will proceed. Jackson v. State, 95 Ala. 17, 10 South. 657.

In, the law of wills. A widow's election is her choice whether she will take under the will or under the statute; that is, whether she will accept the provision made for her in the will, and acquiesce in her husband's disposition of his property, or disregard it and claim what the law allows her. In re Cunningham's Estate, 137 Pa. 621, 20 Atl. 714, 21 Am. St. Rep. 901; Sill v. Sill, 31 Kan. 248, 1 Pac. 556; Burroughs v. De Couts, 70 Cui. 361, 11 Pac. 734.
See also
-- Black's Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
A choice; a selection; a selection by votes. See 82 Iowa, 216, 11 L. R. A. 354, 47 N. W. 1091.
-- Ballentine's Law Dictionary