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In Book II, Chapter 2 of his book 'The Spirit of Laws', Montesquieu states that in the case of elections in either a republic or a democracy, voters alternate between being the rulers of the country and being the subjects of the government. By the act of voting, the people operate in a sovereign (or ruling) capacity, acting as "masters" to select their government's "come."


Elections were used as early in history as ancient Greece and ancient Rome, and throughout the Medieval period to select rulers such as the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope.[1] Elections were also used to select rajas by the gana in ancient India. Ancient Arabs also used election to choose their caliph, Uthman and Ali, in the early medieval Rashidun Caliphate;[3] and to select the Pala king Gopala in early medieval Bengal.[4] The modern "election", which consists of public elections of government officials, didn't emerge until the beginning of the 17th century when the idea of representative government took hold in North America and Europe.[1]

Questions of suffrage, especially suffrage for minority groups, have dominated the history of elections. Males, the dominate cultural group in North America and Europe, often dominated the electorate and continue to do so in many countries.[1] Early elections in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States were dominated by landed or ruling class males.[1] However, by 1920 all Western European and North American democracies had universal male suffrage (except Switzerland) and many countries began to consider women's suffrage. [1] Despite legally mandated universal suffrage for males, political barriers were sometimes erected to prevent fair access to elections (See Civil Rights movement). [1]


Who is elected

The government positions for which elections are held vary depending on the locale. In a representative democracy, such as the United States, some positions are not filled through elections, especially those that require certain skills. For example, judges are usually appointed rather than elected to help protect their impartiality. There are exceptions to this practice, however; some judges in the United States are elected, and in ancient Athens military generals were elected.

In some cases, as for example, in soviet democracy—there may exist an intermediate tier of electors between constituents and the elected figure. However, in most representative democracies, this level of indirection usually is nothing more than a formality. For example, the President of the United States is elected by the Electoral College, and in the Westminster System, the Prime Minister is formally chosen by the head of state (and in reality by the legislature or by their party).

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