Voting in Ancient Greece

Ancient History: An Overview of Voting Processes in the Ancient World

Like many other modern practices, voting was created by the Classical World. Greece and Rome were the first to design the intricate electoral system used today in the United States and other countries. However, voting in the Graeco-Roman era frequently differed greatly from what it is today.

Voting in Ancient Greece

Voting in Ancient Greece
Credit: Greece High Definition

A voting system was established by the mythical Lygurgas, who also wrote the Spartan Constitution. Some indicate that leagues of city-states would frequently vote when making decisions. In Athens, Solon enacted a new constitution in 574 BC that granted voting rights to members of the aristocracy. Voting was only made more accessible by Cleisthenes’ reforms. Most Athenian males had the voting rights by the fifth century BC. They could cast ballots on matters like choosing generals and declaring war.

Additionally, Athenians could cast ballots in court cases, and in one notorious case, they executed Socrates. Voting played a significant role in excluding those who were seen as threats to the state. For instance, Themistocles, the victor in the Battle of Salmis, was banished by the Athenians. On an ostracon, a collaborative piece of pottery, the electors would write the name of the person they wished to exile. There was no secret ballot; all voting took place in public. Remember that many enslaved people, women, and immigrants were prohibited from voting. Radical democracy is a category that includes Athens’ system of government.

Since the voting system had been tainted over time, several offices in Athens were selected by lottery. Nevertheless, voting became popular as many other Greek republics imitated Greek democracy. Even when the Macedonian dynasty took control of the city-states, it persisted.

Even after their democratic constitutions had been curtailed, the Greek city-states kept electing magistrates. One of the defining characteristics of the aristocracy and a significant privilege was the ability to vote. Municipal elections continued in the Greek world throughout the Roman era and only fully stopped with the rise of the Byzantine Empire.

Voting in the Ancient Roman World

Roman Republic
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Rome was a monarchy at first, but after removing its last king, the Romans created a special kind of democracy. A group of lawmakers and decision-makers who were indirectly elected made up the Senate. But as time passed, the Romans created several legislatures and assemblies where people could cast their ballots. Nearly all Roman citizens, including the consuls, were elected. The senatorial elite was able to influence this in a way that protected their interests.

Roman tribes frequently held elections. Plebians, members of the lower class, were allowed to cast ballots in some assemblies, giving them a voice in governing matters. Due to restrictions on the property, the majority of people could not vote. Rome created a very intricate voting system that combined direct and indirect democracy. They also pioneered the secret ballot, which is now recognized as crucial to conducting free and impartial elections.

Elections in ancient Rome were frequently violent and bloody. Political violence characterized Roman elections from about 200 BC. Politicians’ gang members intimidated voters and frequently turned Rome into a battleground. There were relatively few safeguards, and there was a purchase of a lot of votes.

Only after Augustus rose to power did Roman elections stop being so brutal. Voting in Rome continued along with the elections. The Senate would regularly vote, but most of those votes were merely ceremonial and used to confirm the edicts of the Emperors.

At the local level, however, many elite members engaged in contentious elections for positions that still had actual authority. Voting became more prevalent throughout the Empire due to romanization, and many local governments enjoyed high levels of autonomy. But only the wealthy could cast a ballot.

Voting in Medieval Venice

Medieval Venice
Credit: Brewminate

The Venetian polity developed during the 13th century, and a selection Great Council comprised 40 members. “Approval voting” was used by the Venetians. In this kind of election, electors cast one vote for each acceptable candidate and none for each unsuitable candidate. The candidate who garnered the most favourable votes was declared the winner.

Voting Rights

The foundation of American history is the expansion of rights, particularly the freedom to vote. Since 1776, when it was declared that all men were created equal but that equality only applied to some, the laws that govern who is eligible to vote have undergone a significant transformation. Then, only white men who were at least 21 years old could vote while America was still in its infancy. Our nation’s capacity to develop, transform, and adapt is one of its strengths, though. Followng are listed a few significant adjustments that have occurred since the early years :

Black Suffrage

The Amendments of 13th, 14th, and 15th to the United States Constitution were adopted in the years that followed the Civil War. It was in the late 1860s. BLACK SUFFRAGE Slavery was prohibited, and formerly enslaved people were granted suffrage (the right to vote) and civil rights. Although African-Americans had the LEGAL right to vote, several barriers prevented many blacks from exercising that right until the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s.

Direct Election of Senators

The 17th Amendment established direct democratic election of senators. Senators were appointed before 1913. But, of course, the Electoral College continues to elect the President instead of the general public. For instance, George Bush won the electoral college vote in the 2000 presidential election despite Al Gore winning the popular vote.

Women’s Suffrage

In 1920, the 19th amendment gave women the right to vote. This amendment came about as a result of “suffragettes” moving internationally. However, women haven’t always fared as well globally. Until the 1970s, Switzerland did not allow women to vote, and as of 1990, Kuwait did not allow women to vote. Many nations still do not allow women and citizens to exercise their right to vote.

18-Year Old Vote

In 1971, with the backdrop of the Vietnam War, many US people felt that if a person is old enough to get drafted into the military to serve the nation, then they were certainly old enough to vote. However, with the passage of the 26th Amendment, the voting age was decreased from 21 to 18.

Voting Systems

Voting Systems
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Internationally, democracy has been practised in a variety of ways. However, the American system is by no means considered to be the best in the world. Voting systems differ greatly from state to state, even within the United States. Nevertheless, the federal government began to pay more attention to the consistent application of election rules after the 2000 presidential election.

Parliamentary System

Under the American electoral system, legislators are chosen by majority or plurality within a single geographic district (whoever gets the most votes in that district wins). For senators, the districts are entire states, whereas, for house members, they are portions of states. The “First-past-the-post” system is used in this situation.

All lawmakers are chosen from the entire country’s voters when a parliamentary system is in place. The number of legislative seats a party wins depends on the total number of votes cast for that party. On a list of party candidates, the legislators are predetermined. The person at the top of the list for the party with the most votes is the prime minister.

Like in America, the first-past-the-post electoral system favours two parties. However, multiple parties benefit from the parliamentary system since they all have a parliamentary say if they receive enough votes for even one seat. England, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Japan, and South Africa are a few examples of nations possessing this type of democracy.

Since there is no division of power, this type of government must be more accountable than a presidential one. Voters can more easily determine who is to blame for inaction in this system. The main complaints are the lack of power separation and the fact that the leader of the government cannot be directly elected by the populace, as in a presidential system. However, research has revealed that during World War II, two-thirds of Third World countries successfully shifted to parliamentary forms of administration.

Instant Runoff Voting

The IRV system is designed to promote third-party involvement in a two-party system. Each voter makes a first, second, and third preference. Their vote shifts to their second preference if their initial pick is unsuccessful. Voters in 2000, for instance, could have expressed their political preferences more fully by selecting Gore second and Nader first, doing away with the so-called “spoiler effect.” IRV systems are used in several foreign countries and many American municipal elections.

Fusion Voting

Candidates may run in a single election under different party banners in fusion voting. New York State is the most prominent example. Candidates frequently run as candidates for the Democrats and the Liberal Party, the Republicans and the Right-To-Life Party, etc. Voters can select both a person AND a party because each candidate’s name is listed once under each party, which encourages third-party involvement. In states lacking fusion voting, there is little negotiating to secure third-party nominations for major-party candidates.

Voting Equipment

Congress approved the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to address issues that were being discussed nationwide. As a result, people with the same names as felons are no longer routinely deleted from the voters, and voters now have the option to cast a provisional ballot if their status is questioned.

Voting and Elections in Ancient India

Voting in Ancient India
Credit: Indian Express

Elections in India are neither a recent phenomenon nor a modern idea. The Indian way of life has always been based on the idea that choices should be made collaboratively and with the consent of all parties, whether at the level of individual families or communities.

Our ancient texts from the Vedic era are replete with allusions to the republics and democracies in various regions of ancient India. The inhabitants of the mighty Vaishali ganarajya chose their chiefs, or Ganapati’s, thousands of years ago to lead them in both peace and battle, according to graphic details preserved by ancient historians. They received advice from various wise men and aristocrats, including the current council of ministers, while making decisions.

Election Commission of India Analysis

The Election Commission of India noted the following in its report following the first general elections in independent India in 1951–1952, tracing the history of elections and the development of representative governments in India:

Many regions of ancient India had republican systems of administration. Such Governments are frequently mentioned in Buddhist literature. For example, the Kshudrak-Malla Sangha, a republican union that existed even in the fourth century BC, provided Alexander the Great with fierce opposition. The Greeks have documented numerous more republican regimes in India; some of these nations were referred to as “aristocratic republics”, while others were regarded as “clean democracies.”

The republican systems of administration in ancient India were unexplainable. However, it is known that in certain of them, every adult male member had the right to vote and attend the general assembly, which made all public decisions. However, it became more and more challenging for all citizens to assemble in one location to discuss state problems as the population grew and the social structure became more complicated. Gradually, this led to the emergence of a representative government. In the history of the Hindu polity, there are numerous references to elections, referendums, voting, and ballots.

Voting Rights

Uncertainty surrounds the nature of the voting rights for popular assemblies. All adult males who were not otherwise disqualified appear to have had the right to vote in other states. In contrast, the basis for voting in the aristocratic republics appears to have been a family. Even foreigners might naturalize to get citizenship and the ability to vote.

A vote was referred to as a “chhanda,” which is Hindi for “wish.” This expressive phrase implies that by casting a ballot, a member expressed his free will and preference. An explanation of the procedures for gathering the votes of persons who could not attend the assembly meeting is also provided. For voting in the assembly, there used to be multi-coloured voting tickets called ‘shalakas’ (pins) (pins). When there was a call for a division, these were given out to the members, and the assembly’s special officer, known as the “shalaka grahak”, collected them (collector of pins). The entire assembly chose to designate this officer. His responsibility was to cast a vote, either in private or public.

Voting in Villages

A system of autonomous and nearly self-sufficient village communities also developed naturally under every system of administration in ancient India, in addition to developing the democratic form of governance in sovereign states, as previously mentioned. Without the obvious trappings of the vote and the ballot box, these societies, which persisted throughout the millennia, were governed on truly democratic principles. Later, they were known as village panchayats and played a significant role in rural society.

Controlling local corporate life through popular assemblies persisted for a very long period, even after the republican states were subsumed into empires. Most imperial conquests left the conquered governments and communities to maintain their prior political and social structures in their unique ways. Popular assemblies continued to run the business of the trading corporations and the villages during the Muslim era.

A major transformation occurred when revenue, judicial, and legal activities were centralized and carried out outside of the villages under British authority. The corporate life of rural communities deteriorated due to this element, and the ensuing decline of the agricultural and industrial economies of the countryside and organizations founded on popular will eventually disappear.


The frequency of asking voters to make decisions on matters of public concern, such as through conducting elections to choose representatives who then make policy, is a question that constitutional writers must consider in every democracy. Although these arrangements appear to not change much over short periods, constitutions have been altered over the past century to allow for shorter office terms and, thus, more frequent elections.

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