electoral systems

elections and democracy

  • election- competitive process where a designated group of people select individuals to serve in specified positions
  • central feature of the democratic process
  • voting is the main form of political activity for many people

functions of elections

  • representation- enable a large group to select a smaller group to act on their behalf
  • choosing a government- general elections determine the composition of the House of Commons, determine which party takes power
  • participation
  • influence over policy- allows citizens to voice their policy preferences
  • accountability- government and individual MPs are held accountable and will be removed from power if the electorate is unhappy with their record
  • citizen education- provide citizens with information on major political issues and the policies of the main parties; enables citizens to make an informed decision on how to vote
  • legitimacy- give legitimacy to the winning party and to the political system; by voting, citizens give their consent to the system
  • elite recruitment- political parties nominate candidates for election and provide them with campaign resources; expect loyality from them if they become MPs

free and fair elections

  • liberal democracy- elections should be competitive, free and fair
  • competitive- voters have a meaningful choice between different political parties
  • free- basic civil liberties e.g. freedom of speech and association, the right to join and stand for a party of one's choice, a free press
  • one person, one vote- each citizen has one vote that is worth the same as everyone else's
  • electoral law- free from bias, overseen by impartial judiciary
  • electoral system- should translate votes cast into seats won in the legislature in a reasonably accurate manner
  • democratic theorists- prioritise the role of the people in the political process; focus on bottom-up functions e.g. policy influence, participation, accountability; government should act in accordance with the wishes of the people
  • elite theorists- elections provide authority and stability for the political system, allowing elites to get on with the task of governing, with only limited recourse to the expressed wishes of the people; highlight top-down functions e.g. legitimacy, elite recruitment; political elite decides what is in the best interests of the people

elections in the UK

  • general elections- elect 650 MPs who make up the House of Commons; Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 introduced fixed 5 year terms for governments; PM must seek 2/4 majority to trigger an early general election
  • elections to the devolved assemblies- scottish parliament, welsh assembly, northern ireland assembly; every 5 years
  • local elections- local councillors are elected for fixed 4 year terms; in some LAs all councillors face the electorate at the same time; in others a proportion are elected each year; directly elected mayors; PCCs
  • european parliament elections- UK elects MEPs every 5 years; unlikely to take part in 2019
  • by elections- held to choose a new representative if a constituency seat in the house of commons, devolved assembly or LA becomes vacant due to the death or resignation of an elected member
  • unelected elements- the hereditary monarch, the house of lords, the judiciary

electoral systems


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